President Joe Biden is preparing to mark the first anniversary of the US Capitol insurrection, gathering with lawmakers to remember the violent attack that has fundamentally changed the Congress and raised global concerns about the future of American democracy.
Marking the one-year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, Biden and congressional Democrats will start Thursday in Statuary Hall, one of several spots where rioters swarmed a year ago and interrupted the electoral count.
Biden is expected to speak to the truth of what happened, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, and draw a contrast between that and "the lies some have spread since'' — a reference to the continued refusal by many Republicans to affirm that Biden won the 2020 election.
"I would expect that President Biden will lay out the significance of what happened at the Capitol and the singular responsibility President Trump has for the chaos and carnage that we saw," Psaki said during Wednesday's press briefing. 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 ever since hundreds of Donald Trump's supporters 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. In a bid to inform the public, Democrats investigating the insurrection plan to spend the coming months telling the American people exactly what happened on Jan. 6. But leaders will spend the one-year 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 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; 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, comes 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 have come to believe Trump's lies that the election was stolen from him, and that the attack wasn't violent at all. A new poll from 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 per cent 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.