Politics

Biden’s fiery Trump speech signals the gloves are off in January 6 inquiry

In the months leading up to the one-year anniversary of the worst attack on the US Capitol since 1814, there’s been a bubbling undercurrent of discontent among many good government advocates, authoritarianism scholars, and Democratic activists who’ve watched with dismay as former President Donald Trump and many of his closest allies have continued to spread lies about the election he lost just over a year ago.

Much of the vitriol from this crowd of opinionated experts has been directed towards Attorney General Merrick Garland for not openly and aggressively moving to saddle the purported plotters of the 6 January insurrection with federal investigations, akin to how the Obama-era Justice Department sandbagged Hillary Clinton with a long-running probe into her infamous private email server.

More ire has been directed at President Joe Biden by the same people, many of whom have complained that after what happened one year ago, the moment has passed him by.

In these critics’ estimation, Mr Biden’s old-school glad-handing style of politics, his constant striving for bipartisan solutions, and his heretofore unqualified support for the Senate’s filibuster rule – all grounded in lessons learned over three decades in the upper chamber – were based on an outdated notion, namely the belief that Republicans, any Republicans, can act in good faith to craft bipartisan solutions.

They’ve also complained that the judicial temperament and outlook that led former President Barack Obama to make Mr Garland into what would be an ill-fated nominee for the late Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat makes him less than fit for purpose as America’s chief prosecutor when that job might entail bringing cases against prominent Republicans.

But Mr Biden’s fiery speech marking the anniversary of last year’s attack appeared almost tailor-made to silence those critics – and to signal that he and his administration are taking their gloves off as they prepare to man the ramparts of democracy against an antidemocratic onslaught from Mr Trump and his compatriots.

Speaking from the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, the president opened his remarks by noting the venue’s history as the Hall of the House of Representatives, pointing out for television viewers the clock bearing the image of Clio, the muse of history from Greek mythology.

But the president quickly pivoted from architectural curiosities to what he called “the God’s truth about January 6 2021”.

“This wasn’t a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection,” he said.

“They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people. They were looking to deny the will of the people. They weren’t looking to uphold a free and fair election, they were looking to overturn one. They weren’t looking to save the cause of America, they were looking to subvert the Constitution.”

Mr Biden, who until now has largely refrained from making even the most oblique reference to the man he once called “the former guy”, condemned his predecessor and his continuing efforts to undermine the government’s legitimacy in the strongest possible terms.

“We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie, and here’s the truth: the former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” he said. “He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest is more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

Continuing, Mr Biden recounted how Mr Trump was “was pre-emptively sowing doubt about the election results” for “months” before election day.

“He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth. He’s not just a former president – he’s a defeated former president, defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes in a full and free and fair election,” said the president, who later concluded his remarks by vowing to “stand in this breach” against those who would “place a dagger at the throat of democracy”.

Watch live as House of Representatives marks January 6 with moment of silence

Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman and critic of the former president, said Mr Biden “went beyond” the usual mealy-mouthed standards of presidential rhetoric because he “called the thing what it is”.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor told The Independent Mr Biden “was clear about the threat in front of us – the lies told by the ‘defeated former president’”.

“It was an unflinching, full-throated defence of democracy,” he said.

The president’s remarks came less than 24 hours after Mr Garland issued a blunt warning to the perpetrators of last year’s violence.

In remarks many observers posited were meant to indirectly reference Mr Trump and his inner circle, Mr Garland said the Department of Justice was “committed” to accountability for “all January 6th perpetrators, at any level … whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy”.

Mr Steele said Mr Biden’s remarks, combined with the Attorney General’s warning, are a sign that the Biden administration is mobilising in defence of a government by rule of law and free and fair elections.

Asked whether he believed the gloves are coming off in such a fight, he replied: “Yes”.

“I think many inside the administration believed that in time Americans would see the dangers of Donald Trump‘s actions and the inclination to support him would dissipate. That has not happened – in fact it’s gotten worse,” he said. “And as president, if the challenge in front of you is the threat to the very underpinnings of democracy, at some point you have to lean into that fight. And I think now Biden and the Justice Department are ready to do that.”

Another prominent Marylander, January 6 Select Committee member Jamie Raskin, told The Independent Mr Biden’s Thursday speech sent a message that he would be “giving no quarter to the enemies of democracy” going forward.

“He [Biden] is properly placing a spotlight on the fact that Donald Trump has positioned himself outside of the democratic order. And no president has ever done that before. And it makes him a danger to the survival of the Republic,” said Mr Raskin, who served as the lead manager at Mr Trump’s second impeachment trial.

The former constitutional law professor posited that Mr Biden had “probably” hoped that Mr Trump “would retire into former presidential obscurity”, but instead had to watch his predecessor remain “essentially an enemy of our constitutional order”.

Mr Raskin said Mr Biden was correct to personalise the fight against Mr Trump’s lies about a year of not confronting them directly.

“The rest of us still have to deal with the whole Trump phenomenon and the systemic assault on the democratic order, but Joe Biden is sending a direct message to Donald Trump telling him to stop messing with American democracy,” he said.


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