US President Joe Biden has accused his predecessor Donald Trump of spreading a “web of lies” to undermine US democracy in a speech on the anniversary of the deadly Capitol attack by Trump supporters who tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
Speaking at the building where rioters smashed windows, assaulted police and sent politicians fleeing for their lives on January 6, 2021, Biden said Trump’s false claims 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 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 “political theatre” in an attempt 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 US 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 they have said are needed to fight fraud.
Research shows such fraud is extremely rare in US 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 US transfers of power will be peaceful – especially those involving closer margins than the 2020 election that Biden won by seven million votes nationwide.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led dozens of bundled-up Democratic politicians 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.
Just two Republicans were spotted at a House of Representatives session marking the riot’s anniversary – Liz Cheney, who has been shunned by party colleagues after criticising Trump, and her father Dick Cheney, who served as vice president under 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.
Other Republicans accused Democrats of exploiting the anniversary for partisan gain.
“What brazen politicisation of Jan 6 by President Biden,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, who has reversed his position on Trump numerous times, including criticising him after the riot and then reverting to defending him.
America’s next federal election is in November, with Republicans favoured to retake a majority in at least one of the two chambers of Congress.
That could cripple Biden’s ability to advance policy and set the stage for two years of legislative gridlock before a potential 2024 Biden-Trump rematch.
According to Reuters/Ipsos polling, 55 per cent of Republican voters believe Trump’s false claims, which were rejected by dozens of courts, state election departments and members of his own administration.