President Joe Biden on Thursday marked the first anniversary of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, the violent attack that has fundamentally changed Congress and raised global concerns about the future of American democracy.
Biden arrived early at the Capitol saying: “I’m praying that we’ll never have another day like we had a year ago today.”
The president and congressional Democrats started the morning in Statuary Hall, one of several spots where rioters swarmed a year ago and interrupted the electoral count. Biden is set to draw a contrast between the truth of what happened and the false narratives that have sprung up about the Capitol assault, including the continued refusal by many Republicans to affirm that Biden won the 2020 election. He plans to highlight the ongoing threat facing the nation’s democracy by those who used or condoned the use of force to try to subvert the will of the people.
“And so at this moment we must decide what kind of nation we are going to be,” Biden will say, according to excerpts of his remarks released early Thursday. “Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a 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 lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.”
Biden planned to outline “the singular responsibility” then-President Donald Trump bears for the violence of that day, when he egged on his protesters and waited hours before calling for calm. He also planned to warn that Jan. 6 is part of an enduring challenge to the nation’s system of government.
A series of remembrance events during the day will be widely attended by Democrats, in person and virtually, but almost every Republican on Capitol Hill will be absent. The division is a stark reminder of the rupture between the two parties, worsening since hundreds of rioters violently pushed past police, used their fists and flagpoles to break through the windows of the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory.
While congressional Republicans almost universally condemned the attack in the days afterward, most have stayed loyal to the former president.
Rep. Liz Cheney, chair of the House committee investigating the attack and one of the few GOP lawmakers attending the Capitol ceremonies, warned that “the threat continues.” Trump, she said, “continues to make the same claims that he knows caused violence on January 6.”
“Unfortunately, too many in my own party are embracing the former president, are looking the other way or minimizing the danger,” she told NBC’s “Today.” “That’s how democracies die. We simply cannot let that happen.”
Others, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, were absent, with a contingent of colleagues attending the funeral for former Sen. Johnny Isakson in Georgia.
In a bid to inform the public, Democrats investigating the insurrection plan to spend the coming months telling the American people exactly what happened last Jan. 6. But leaders will spend the anniversary appealing to broader patriotic instincts.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden said his impetus for running for the White House was to fight for the “soul of the nation” after watching Trump’s comments that some good people were among the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. He warned that American democracy was at stake, and his view is that the Jan. 6 attack was a vivid demonstration of his fears.
On Thursday, aides said, Biden will harken back to his call during his inaugural address, just two weeks after the insurrection, for leaders to speak the truth about the attack and what motivated it — even as some GOP lawmakers and the public deny the events of that day.
“There is truth and there are lies,” Biden said at the time. “Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders — leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, too, is marking the anniversary with a high-minded appeal, telling The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that “democracy won that night,” when Congress returned to the Capitol after the riot and affirmed Biden’s victory.
To honor the anniversary, Pelosi has scheduled a moment of silence in the House, where many members were evacuated and some were trapped as the rioters tried to break in. She will also deliver private remarks to Hill staff who, as she told AP, stayed to “protect our democracy.”
Later the Democratic leaders will hold a moderated discussion with historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham, and a session featuring testimonials from members who were there that day. While many lawmakers will be absent due to concerns about COVID-19, several of the events will be livestreamed so they can participate.
Biden’s sharp message and the Republicans’ distance from it come as lawmakers are adjusting to the new normal on Capitol Hill — the growing tensions that many worry will result in more violence or, someday, a legitimate election being overturned. Democrats and a handful of Republicans feel a desperate urgency to connect to a public in which some believe that the election was stolen from Trump and that the attack wasn’t violent at all.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that 3 in 10 Republicans say the attack was not violent, and about another 3 in 10 say it was somewhat violent. Around two-thirds of Americans described the day as very or extremely violent, including about 9 in 10 Democrats.
As Biden is prepared to direct blame toward the former president, the percentage of Americans who blame Trump for the Jan. 6 riot has grown slightly over the past year, with 57% saying he bears significant responsibility for what took place.
In an AP-NORC poll taken in the days after the attack, 50% said that.
Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud were rejected by the courts and refuted by his own Justice Department.
An investigation by the AP found fewer than 475 cases of voter fraud among 25.5 million ballots cast in the six battleground states disputed by Trump, a minuscule number in percentage terms.