U.S. President Joe Biden used the first anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot to speak bluntly about the impact of the shocking event — and to lay responsibility at the feet of former President Donald Trump, the White House said Wednesday.
Invoking famous battles from the American Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II, as well as equal rights landmarks like Seneca Falls, New York and Selma, Alabama, Biden said, “We are in a battle for the soul of America.”
He condemned those who stormed the Capitol as the Senate attempted to certify the 2020 election results, and Trump, whose rally near the White House immediately before the attack is seen by many as a contributing factor to the insurrection.
“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed.”
“You can’t love your country only when you win,” he said.
Watch: Vice President Harris and President Biden speak at the Capitol:
In an excerpt released ahead of the address, Biden says the United States “must decide what kind of nation we are going to be.”
“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?” the president plans to say, according to the White House. “We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed the speech in Wednesday’s briefing with reporters, saying she expects Biden to emphasize “the singular responsibility President Trump has for the chaos and carnage that we saw.”
“He will forcibly push back on the lie spread by the former president in an attempt to mislead the American people and his own supporters, as well as distract from his role in what happened,” Psaki said. “So, he will, of course, speak to the moment, to the importance in history of the peaceful transfer of power, of what we need to do to protect our own democracy and be forward-looking, but he will also reflect on the role his predecessor had.”
Also Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that Justice Department prosecutors will pursue perpetrators “at any level” responsible for the riot.
He did not name any individuals who may face prosecution, but said: “There can be no different rules for the powerful and the powerless.”
Late Tuesday, Trump canceled a press conference scheduled for Thursday evening at his Florida estate, where he was expected to speak about the deadly attack on the Capitol that led to at least five deaths and more than 130 injuries and saw more than 720 participants charged with crimes. Trump said he would instead discuss “important topics” at a January 15 rally in Arizona.
VOA attempted to contact two associates of former Vice President Mike Pence to find out whether he had any plans on Thursday. They did not respond.
Trump, in a statement, accused the congressional committee investigating the January 6 event of showing “total bias and dishonesty.” He maintains that the November 2020 presidential election was marred by fraud and that he actually won. There is no evidence to support that claim.
On Wednesday, Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., that he believes the congressional select committee currently investigating the events of January 6 is a “sham.”
“Democrats across the country are destroying the rule of law by using their power in government to illegally target, bully and harass their political enemies,” he said.
Public opinion polls have shown about 70% of Republicans do not consider Biden’s election win legitimate.
A pro-Trump mob stormed the seat of Congress on January 6 last year as lawmakers inside were meeting to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
They overpowered the massively outnumbered Capitol Police officers on duty, smashing windows, erecting a gallows and vandalizing the historic building. Lawmakers were forced to flee for safety or lock themselves inside their offices.
Some rioters said they were seeking out specific individuals — in particular, Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Only hours later, after federal law enforcement agencies and the military arrived to reestablish control of the Capitol, were the members of Congress able to complete their work and certify Biden’s election win, setting the stage for his inauguration weeks later.
Four Trump supporters died on the day of the assault, and a Capitol Police officer died the next day. The mob injured dozens of officers, and in the months since the attack, four officers have died by suicide.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told Agence France-Presse that Trump’s actions following the election are “unprecedented in U.S. history.”
“No former president has attempted to do so much to discredit his successor and the democratic process,” Tobias said.
While Biden prepares to lay blame for the insurrection on Trump, some Republican lawmakers accuse Democrats of attempting to channel fallout from the riot for partisan ends.
Chris Hannas contributed to this report.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters.