WASHINGTON – President Biden on Thursday called on the nation to re-commit to peaceful democracy, warning it remains in jeopardy a year after a host of supporters of President Donald J. Trump stormed the Capitol to prevent Congress from ratifying its electoral defeat.
In a speech on Capitol Hill on the anniversary of the bombing, Mr. Biden painted a startling portrait of the fragility of the two-century-old American system. Rather than reaffirming the durability of the union, as presidents usually do, he stressed the dangers of its collapse.
âRight now, we have to decide what kind of a nation we’re going to be,â Biden said. âAre we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as the norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that does not live in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot afford to be that kind of nation.
The speech kicked off a day of commemoration that, instead of showing American unity, will highlight how fractured the nation remains a year after Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept defeat at the polls prompted supporters to invade the Capitol, to disrupt the tally of The Electoral College votes and send lawmakers to rush to safety.
Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders are planning speaking engagements, talks and a candlelight vigil while Republican leaders have largely stayed on the sidelines. Mr. Trump had originally scheduled a press conference at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida estate to protest the investigation into the attack, but canceled to the relief of Republicans who viewed it as counterproductive.
Today’s disparate approaches reflect how January 6 has been interpreted through a political lens. Democrats view the storming of Capitol Hill as an existential threat to constitutional democracy like no other in modern times. Most Republicans would rather focus on something else, with some believing this is being used as a partisan weapon against them and others fearing they will run into Mr. Trump, who continues to wield inordinate power within the party.
Feelings remain keen on Capitol Hill, a post-traumatic stressor place that has yet to fully recover from the psychological and political scars of an assault that has left at least seven dead and hundreds injured. More than the usual acrimony over legislative differences, the legacy of January 6 has exacerbated the toxic divide between staff members and staff assistants on opposite sides of the aisle.
While Mr. Biden was reluctant to initiate an exchange with his predecessor, he used his 20-minute speech to more directly blame Mr. Trump for encouraging violence a year ago.
“For the first time in our history, a president not only lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent crowd reached Capitol Hill,” Biden said. After cheering on the crowd, Biden added, Mr. Trump sat staring in his White House dining room “doing nothing for hours as police assaulted, lives in danger, Capitol Hill of the besieged country “.
Mr Biden also spoke about the voting rights legislation blocked in the Senate, although he has a separate speech on the subject scheduled for next week. Vice President Kamala D. Harris, who spoke before Mr. Biden, said: âWe need to pass the voting bills that are currently before the Senate.
Republicans accused the White House and Democrats of politicizing the attack to promote legislation intended to benefit their own party. “It is more than unpleasant for some of our colleagues to bluntly use the January 6 anniversary to advance these goals,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the leader of the Republican minority.
Many, if not most, Republicans plan to be absent from Thursday’s events, with most of the party’s senators heading to Georgia for the funeral of their former colleague Johnny Isakson.
While Mr Trump canceled his press conference, he continued to issue written salutes against the House committee investigating the attack as he seeks to reframe the riot as the understandable result of anger during the 2020 election, which he falsely claims was stolen.
Although Republican leaders will remain officially silent, Mr. Trump’s camp will be represented by Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, who will host a podcast featuring two other Trump allies, Reps Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie. Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed to this report.