President Joe Biden on Thursday accused his predecessor Donald Trump of posing a continuing threat to American democracy in a speech on the anniversary of the deadly U.S. Capital attack by Trump supporters who tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
Speaking at the white-domed building that was the scene of the January 6, 2021 riot, Biden warned that Trump's false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud could unravel the rule of law and undermine future elections.
"We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. Here's the truth: A former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He's done so because he values power over principle," Biden said.
"He can't accept he lost," Biden added.
Launching such a direct attack on Trump - though Biden never actually said his predecessor's name during the speech - was a departure for the president, who has spent most of his first year in office focused on pursuing his own agenda rather than looking backward.
But Democrats, a handful of Republicans and many independent observers have warned that the damage done by Trump's efforts to undermine faith in the election he lost to Biden lingers on.
"The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections," Biden said.
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According to Reuters/Ipsos polling, some 55% of Republican voters believe Trump's false claim, which was rejected by dozens of courts, state election departments and members of Trump's own administration.
Accusing Trump of seeking to perpetuate a "big lie," Biden said there is a "battle for the soul of America" and a struggle at home and abroad between the forces of democracy and autocracy.
Trump in a statement issued after the speech said that Biden "used my name today to try to further divide America."
Four people died in the hours-long chaos a year ago, which occurred after Trump urged supporters to march to the Capital and "fight like hell." One police officer died the day after battling rioters and four later died by suicide. Around 140 police officers were injured.
One of the officers at the scene, Sergeant Harry Dunn of the Capital Police, said the attack took an emotional toll.
"You cannot get away from Jan. 6 even if you're trying to. It's everywhere, especially if it's your place of work," Dunn said in a phone interview. "Accountability needs to be had, no matter who that comes at."
Biden's remarks began a day-long series of events that will also feature House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other legislative leaders, mostly from Biden's Democratic Party. Biden's speech was carried live on all major U.S. television networks.
Many Senate Republicans planned to be out of state attending the funeral of former Republican Senator Johnny Isakson.
'Big lie' takes root
Some observers say they worry Trump's false claims could make it less likely that future transfers of power in America will be peaceful - especially those involving closer margins than the 2020 election, which Biden won by 7 million votes nationwide.
"The fact that the Big Lie has taken root the way it has, and that it's intensified and worsened over the past 12 months, that's even more dangerous than Jan. 6 itself," said Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley.
Trump remains highly popular among Republican voters. He has been shaping the field of Republican candidates who will contest the Nov. 8 elections that will determine which party controls Congress and has hinted he may run for president again in 2024.
Trump's main fundraising committee had $90 million in the bank at the end of June, while another account had $7.7 million, according to public filings.
On Tuesday, Trump canceled plans to mark the anniversary with a news conference. He plans to speak instead on Jan. 15 at a rally in Arizona.
Most Republican officials and officeholders have remained loyal to Trump. Some have sought to play down the attack by likening the rioters to tourists and questioning whether the assault was perpetrated by federal agents.
Biden said it was hypocritical for them to question the outcome of the presidential race, while accepting Republican victories in congressional and state-level races on that day.
Those Republicans who have called for accountability, including Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, have been shunned by their colleagues. The two are the only Republicans participating in a congressional investigation into the riot that has interviewed more than 300 witnesses so far, including top Trump aides.
U.S. prosecutors have brought criminal charges against at least 725 people linked to the riot.
Democrats are using the anniversary to push for broad voting-rights legislation that they say is needed to counteract Republican efforts to tighten voting laws at the state level. So far Democrats have been unable to round up enough support to ensure passage in the Senate.
Republicans say Democrats are exploiting the anniversary for partisan purposes.
"It is especially jaw-dropping to hear some Senate Democrats invoke the mob's attempt to disrupt our country's norms, rules, and institutions as a justification to discard our norms, rules and institutions themselves," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.