WASHINGTON--President Joe Biden on Thursday accused his predecessor Donald Trump of spreading a "web of lies" to undermine U.S. democracy in a speech on the anniversary of the deadly Capitol attack by Trump supporters who tried to undo his 2020 election defeat.
Speaking at the white-domed building where rioters smashed windows, assaulted police and sent lawmakers fleeing for their lives on Jan. 6, 2021, Biden said Trump's false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud could unravel the rule of law and subvert future elections.
"A former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He's done so because he values power over principle," Biden said. "He can't accept he lost."
Biden never actually uttered his predecessor's name during the 25-minute speech, telling reporters afterward he was trying to focus on the threats to America's political system instead of Trump himself.
The tone, including a poke at Trump's "bruised ego," was a departure for Biden, who has focused during most of his first year in office on pursuing his own agenda. Trump issued three statements in the hours following his successor's remarks accusing Biden of trying to divide the country and repeating his false election claims.
Trump's behaviour over the past year, like his conduct in office, has been norm-shattering. Unlike other former U.S. presidents denied re-election, Trump has refused to accept the verdict of the voters and pressured fellow Republicans to somehow overturn the results, without success.
His false claims have provided cover for Republicans at the state level to pass new restrictions on voting that they have said are needed to fight fraud. Research shows such fraud is extremely rare in U.S. elections.
Biden's fellow Democrats, a few Republicans and many independent experts have said Trump's continued denials could make it less likely that future U.S. transfers of power will be peaceful - especially those involving closer margins than the 2020 election that Biden won by 7 million votes nationwide.
The speech illustrated that Biden and other Democrats remain wary of Trump's political staying power. In the riot's immediate aftermath, even some Republicans thought his grip on their party had been shaken, but since then Trump has only tightened it.
"Our democracy is very fragile, and the cult of The Big Lie is still very much in action with the help of the vast majority of our colleagues on the other side, who continue to try to rewrite or ignore history," Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said at an afternoon event.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led dozens of bundled-up Democratic lawmakers holding lights in a moment of silence on the steps of the Capitol, part of a candlelight prayer vigil that was the final official event of the anniversary.
Not far away, a vigil at the D.C. jail for the about 40 inmates charged in connection with the Jan. 6 assault was sparsely attended. "This is not speedy justice,” said L.A. Warren, 65, who had driven to Washington from his Michigan home for the day and said he, too, had participated in the storming of the Capitol. “A year, that’s a long time, when these people - a lot of them, in my view - was trespassing.”
Just two Republicans were spotted at a House of Representatives session marking the riot's anniversary: Representative Liz Cheney, who has been shunned by party colleagues after criticizing Trump, and her father Dick Cheney, who served as vice president under President George W. Bush.
"A party that is in thrall to a cult of personality is a party that is dangerous to the country," Liz Cheney told reporters on her way out of the Capitol.
Dick Cheney told reporters that current party leaders do not resemble "any of the folks I knew" when he served in Congress.