WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden warned Friday that Donald Trump's efforts to retake the White House in 2024 pose a grave threat to the country, the day before the third anniversary of the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol by then-President Trump’s supporters aiming to keep him in power,
Speaking near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where George Washington and the Continental Army spent a bleak winter nearly 250 years ago, Biden said that Jan. 6 2021, marked a moment where "we nearly lost America — lost it all." He said the presidential race — a likely rematch with Trump, who is the far and away GOP frontrunner — is "all about" whether American democracy will survive.
"We all know who Donald Trump is," Biden said. "The question we have to answer is who are we?"
Biden laid out Trump’s role in the Capitol attack, as a mob of the Republican’s supporters overran the building while lawmakers were counting Electoral College votes that certified Democrat Biden's win. More than 100 police officers were bloodied, beaten and attacked by the rioters who overwhelmed authorities to break into the building.
"What’s Trump done? He’s called these insurrectionists ‘patriots,’" Biden said, "and he promised to pardon them if he returns to office." He excoriated Trump for "glorifying" rather than condemning political violence
At least nine people who were at the Capitol that day died during or after the rioting, including several officers who died of suicide, a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber, and three other Trump supporters who authorities said suffered medical emergencies.
Biden said that by "trying to rewrite the facts of Jan. 6, Trump is trying to steal history the same way he tried to steal the election."
Trump, who faces 91 criminal charges stemming from his efforts to overturn his loss to Biden and three other felony cases, argues that Biden and top Democrats are themselves seeking to undermine democracy by using the legal system to thwart the campaign of his chief rival.
"Donald Trump’s campaign is about him," Biden said, saying it was Trump's aim to get retribution on his political enemies. "Not America. Not you. Donald Trump’s campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future."
He added: "There’s no confusion about who Trump is or what he intends to do."
Before his remarks, Biden, joined by his wife Jill, participated in a wreath laying ceremony at Valley Forge National Arch, which honors the troops who camped there from December 1777 to June 1778. He also toured the home that served as Washington’s headquarters.
Biden invoked Washington’s decision to resign his commission as the leader of the Continental Army after American independence was won — and the painting commemorating that moment that resides in the Capitol Rotunda — to cast Trump as unworthy of Washington’s legacy.
"He could have held onto that power as long as he wanted," Biden said of Washington. "But that wasn’t the America he and the American troops of Valley Forge had fought for. In America, our leaders don’t hold on to power relentlessly. Our leaders return power to the people – willingly."
Although the chaos of Jan. 6 came down on members of both political parties, it is being remembered in a largely polarized fashion now, like other aspects of political life in a divided country.
In the days after the attack, 52% of U.S. adults said Trump bore a lot of responsibility for Jan. 6, according to the Pew Research Center. By early 2022, that had declined to 43%. The number of Americans who said Trump bore no responsibility increased from 24% in 2021 to 32% in 2022.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released this week found that about 7 in 10 Republicans say too much is being made of the attack. Just 18% of GOP supporters say that protesters who entered the Capitol were "mostly violent," down from 26% in 2021, while 77% of Democrats and 54% of independents say the protesters were mostly violent, essentially unchanged from 2021.
Biden said that "politics, fear, money" have led many Republicans to abandon their criticism of Trump after the Jan. 6 attack.
"These MAGA voices who know the truth about Trump and Jan. 6th have abandoned the truth and abandoned democracy," Biden said. "They’ve made their choice. Now the rest of us – Democrats, Independents, mainstream Republicans – we have to make our choice. I know mine. And I believe I know America’s."
On the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack, Biden had stood in the Capitol's Statuary Hall, a historic spot where the House of Representatives used to meet before the Civil War. On Jan. 6, rioters filled the area, some looking for lawmakers who had run for cover.
"They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people," Biden said of the rioters. "They were looking to deny the will of the people."
On the second anniversary, Biden presented the nation's second highest civilian award to 12 people who were involved in defending the Capitol during the attack.
Friday's appearance included supporters and young people motivated by the attack to get involved in politics, campaign advisers said.