“For the first time in our history, a president did not just lose an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent crowd reached the Capitol,” Biden said in a speech by the US Capitol which lasted just under 30 minutes. “But they failed. They failed. And on this commemoration day, we must ensure that such an attack never happens again.”
In a direct shot at Trump, Biden added, “His bruised ego means more to him than our democracy or our Constitution, he cannot accept losing.”
Biden has generally avoided speaking directly about his predecessor since taking office and pointedly did not mention his name on Thursday, instead making more than a dozen references to “the former president.”
“A former President of the United States of America created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He did it because he values power over principle, because he sees his own best interests as more important than the interest of his country and the interest of America, ”Biden said.
Biden again emphasized the central message of his 2020 presidential campaign and the reason he ran against Trump: “We are in a battle for the soul of America.”
The president warned that democracy and the “America’s promise” were in danger and called on the American public to “uphold the rule of law, to keep the flame of democracy alive”.
He called for protecting voting rights across the country and lambasted Trump and his supporters for trying to “suppress your vote and overthrow our election.”
“It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic. And frankly, it’s not American,” Biden said.
On Capitol Hill, Congressional Democrats participated in a series of events following Biden’s speech to commemorate the January 6 anniversary, including moments of silence on the floors of the House and Senate and speeches of lawmakers describing their personal experiences of the heartbreaking attack.
Biden’s comments come as Democrats redouble their efforts to pass two voting rights bills in the Senate – the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Both laws were introduced in response to Republicans passing laws across the country, making it more difficult for citizens to vote after a record turnout in the 2020 election. Virtually all Republicans in Congress oppose the vote. legislation and it is not clear whether Democrats will be able to pass the bills.
“Now let’s step up, write the next chapter in American history, for January 6 does not mark the end of democracy, but the beginning of a renaissance of freedom and fair play,” Biden said.
After his speech, Biden defended calling Trump so bluntly when a reporter asked him if he thought attacking the former president would “divide more than it heals.”
The President replied, “The way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the injury. You cannot pretend. It is a serious thing.”
“You have to face it. That’s what great nations do. They face the truth, face it and move on,” Biden said.
A day of remembrance
The events of the insurgency took place just two weeks before Biden’s inauguration, casting a shadow over the administration of the new president. And despite the multitude of rejected court cases, failed state election audits, and countless debunked conspiracy allegations, many Trump supporters continued to doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.
In his remarks, Biden said he didn’t ask to be president at a time when America’s founding principles were under attack, but was ready to fight.
“I will stand in this breach. I will defend this nation. And I will not allow anyone to put a dagger in the throat of democracy,” Biden said.
The president also praised the police officers who opposed the attack for defending the nation’s way of life.
“A year ago today, in this sacred place, democracy was attacked – simply attacked. The will of the people has been attacked, the Constitution – our Constitution – has faced the gravest of threats. Outnumbered in the face of a brutal attack, the Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police Department, the National Guard and other brave law enforcement officials saved the rule of law. Our democracy has held up. We the people have endured. We the people prevailed.
“When I meet young people, they often ask me questions about the state of our democracy. Around January 6. What I tell them is that January 6 reflects the dual nature of democracy. Its fragility and its strength, ”Harris added. “You see, the strength of democracy is the rule of law.”
Instead of his press conference Thursday, Trump is expected to voice his grievances at a campaign-style rally in Arizona next week.
Democrats pay homage to Capitol Police, condemn Trump
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer both spoke on Capitol Hill in remembrance of the January 6 anniversary.
Pelosi paid tribute to the police and staff who helped protect the Capitol before leading a minute of silence on the home floor.
The speaker recognized “the heroism of so many, especially the United States Capitol Police” and “fallen heroes of that day”.
“In the face of extreme danger, they all risked our safety for our democracy by protecting the Capitol complex.”
“Because of them and our members, the insurgency has failed,” she said.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was upstairs in the House with his daughter, GOP Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Pelosi spoke with the Cheneys after his remarks and the moment of silence.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in his own speech warned of the pervasive dangers to democracy and condemned former President Donald Trump for inciting an insurgency.
“The warnings of history are clear: when democracies are in danger, it often starts with a mob. This is what happened a year ago, here in this building, a mob attack,” did he declare.
“Donald Trump continues today to spread his poisonous insult on the big lie,” he said. “It was Donald Trump’s big lie that drenched our political landscape in kerosene. It was Donald Trump’s rally … that struck the game, then came the fire.”
Democrats share their personal experiences of the attack
Democratic lawmakers have recounted haunting memories of the attack in speeches throughout the day.
They described feelings of terror, disbelief and anger as the attack unfolded. They remembered horrible noises: broken glass, rioters banging on doors and walls, a gunshot. They remembered frightening directives: how they were told to put on gas masks and run for their lives. They told stories of heartbreaking calls to loved ones, not knowing what would happen next or if they would make it out alive.
Schumer described how close he got to the pro-Trump crowd that day.
“I was less than 30 feet from these mean, racist and fanatic insurgents,” he said. He added: “I was told later that one of them allegedly said, ‘Here is the great Jew, let’s go get him.'”
Schumer said a police officer grabbed him by the collar at one point and it was a moment he will never forget.
“Senator, we have to get out of here, you are in danger,” he recalls, telling the officer to him.
Many Senate Democrats gave speeches in the Senate from morning until afternoon to commemorate the anniversary.
In addition to speeches from lawmakers, a moderated conversation took place in the afternoon with historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham.
Later that evening, a candlelight prayer vigil was held on the Capitol’s central steps attended by House and Senate Democrats, including Pelosi and Schumer.
Republicans reluctant to talk about Trump
While Congressional Democrats held a full day of events to draw attention to what happened during the insurgency, Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, seemed reluctant to talk about it and especially reluctant to bring up. the role of Trump.
“Today’s actions were illegal and as bad as it gets. Our Capitol should never be compromised and those who broke the law deserve to face legal repercussions and full accountability,” he wrote.
McCarthy then turned to criticism of Democrats.
“Sadly, a year later, the majority party doesn’t seem any closer to answering the central question of how Capitol was left so ill-prepared and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. this they are using as a partisan political weapon to further divide our country, ”he said.
This story was updated with additional developments on Thursday.
CNN’s Annie Grayer, Melanie Zanona, Jeremy Diamond and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.