WASHINGTON, Jan 6 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will accuse his predecessor Donald Trump of posing a continuing threat to democracy on Thursday, the anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who tried to overturn his election defeat.
The windows that were shattered when thousands of rioters stormed the white-domed building on Jan. 6, 2021, have been repaired, the lawmakers and staff who fled for their lives have returned to work and the miles of protective fencing have come down.
But Biden, his fellow Democrats and a few of the former president’s fellow Republicans warn that the damage he did before the riot – in a fiery speech in which he falsely claimed that his loss was the result of widespread fraud – lingers on.
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.
“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?” Biden will say, according to excerpts of his speech released by 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.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said that while the Capitol building is better fortified than it was a year ago, democracy remains vulnerable.
“The insurrection will not be an aberration. It well could become the norm” unless Congress addresses “the root causes” of Jan. 6 through election reforms, Democrat Schumer said.
Four people died in the hours-long chaos, while 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 Capitol 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. I don’t care who it is.”
Biden’s remarks will begin 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. They will highlight the lingering damage from the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.
Biden’s comments will be “clear eyed about the threat the former president represents to our democracy and how the former president constantly works to constantly undermine basic American values and rule of law,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
The House will not be in session and many Senate Republicans will 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 will be peaceful – especially those involving closer margins than 2020, which Biden won by 7 million votes.
“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 repeatedly hinted he may run for the White House again in 2024.
On Tuesday, Trump canceled plans to mark the anniversary with a news conference, where he had been expected to repeat his false claims. He plans to speak instead on Jan. 15 at a rally in Arizona.
Most Republican officials and officeholders have remained loyal to Trump. Even after the attack, more than half of Republican lawmakers voted against certifying his defeat, and only a handful supported his impeachment.
Those 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 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, though so far they have not charged Trump or his associates.
Some Republican lawmakers have sought to play down the attack by likening the rioters to tourists and questioning whether the assault was perpetrated by federal agents. Others have accused Democrats of over-reacting.
“The most surprising outcome — and the day’s true legacy – was the left’s attempt to use the Capitol unrest to foster a permanent climate of fear and repression,” Republican Senator Josh Hawley wrote on Fox News.
Democrats have used the anniversary to push a broad voting-rights bill that they say is needed to counteract Republican efforts to tighten laws at the state level. So far they have been unable to round up enough support to ensure passage in the Senate.
But Democrats say they cannot heal the wounds of Jan. 6 unless Republicans take steps to rebuild confidence in the machinery of democracy.
“When we look back generations from now, will the insurrection be viewed as a turning point, a time when we reaffirmed our commitment to democracy, or will it be viewed as a precursor to further attacks?” Wisconsin state attorney general Josh Kaul said on a media call on Wednesday.
Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Moira Warburton and Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool