Biden says U.S. democracy under threat on Capitol riot anniversary

U.S. 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 U.S. Capitol attack by Trump supporters who tried to undo his 2020 election defeat.

U.S. president denounces 'web of lies' spread by Trump

President Joe Biden speaks from Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol to mark the one-year anniversary of the deadly Jan. 6 riot by supporters largely loyal to then-president Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/The Associated Press)

U.S. 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 U.S. 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 warned that Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud could undermine 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 Trump'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 spent most of his first year in office pursuing his own agenda. Trump issued three statements in the hours following Biden's remarks accusing him of trying to divide the country and repeating his false election claims.

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Biden: Trump did nothing as U.S. Capitol was attacked

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U.S. President Joe Biden accused former U.S. president Donald Trump of rallying a mob of his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, then 'doing nothing for hours' as he watched it unfold on television from the White House. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Trump's behaviour over the past year, like his conduct in office, has been norm-shattering. Unlike other former U.S. presidents who failed to be re-elected, 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 seven 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 Rep. Pramila Jayapal said at an afternoon event.

A Capitol Police officer stands watch Thursday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads members of the U.S. House and Senate in a vigil. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

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.

WATCH | On anniversary of U.S. Capitol riot, President Joe Biden says U.S. democracy under threat: 

Anniversary of U.S. Capitol riot highlighted by political division

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Duration 4:59
The one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot was marked with a solemn vigil, calls to end the political division in the U.S. and a few verbal attacks against former president Donald Trump. But in a further sign of America's worsening political chasm, only Democrats seemed to take the day seriously.

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 former U.S. 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" he knew when he served in Congress.

Trump remains highly popular among Republican voters and is working to shape the field of Republican candidates in the Nov. 8 congressional elections.

Many remain loyal to Trump

Most Republican officials and officeholders have remained loyal to Trump, and some have sought to play down the riot.

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Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer warns the 2022 U.S. midterm election could set the stage for a 2024 Trump presidential run that "has the potential to break the electoral process - to create a constitutional crisis that 2020 was not."

Liz Cheney is one of only two Republican members of a House committee investigating the riot, which in recent weeks has unearthed records showing Trump allies urging him to call off the rioters as the attack was unfolding. 

Four people who attended the riot died: one, a female protester who was part of the mob that forced its way into the Capitol, was shot by a Capitol Police officer; two people died of heart failure; and one person died of an amphetamine overdose. A Capitol Police officer who confronted the rioters died a day later after suffering two strokes.

Some Republicans accused Democrats of exploiting the anniversary for partisan gain.

"What brazen politicization of Jan. 6 by President Biden," said Senator Lindsey Graham of the president's speech.

Graham has reversed his position on Trump numerous times, criticizing him after the riot and then reverting to defending him.