President Joe Biden began his first campaign event of the year, arguing directly to voters that his predecessor Donald Trump is a danger to democracy and should not be returned to the White House.
Biden’s comments on Friday offered some of his sharpest warnings yet about the threat he said Trump represents for the country’s institutions, a message that Biden is placing at the center of his re-election candidacy, as polls show the two are heading toward a rematch for which Americans have little appetite.
“Donald Trump’s campaign is all about him. Neither the United States, nor you. Donald Trump’s campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future. “He is willing to sacrifice our democracy,” Biden said near Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. “Democracy is on the ballot. Your freedom is on the ballot,” he added.
The speech came one day before the third anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol, when Trump supporters attempted to block certification of the 2020 presidential election.
The president has used previous anniversaries to argue that Trump’s policies and rhetoric are at odds with the nation’s core ideas, but on Friday detailed the events of the attacks in their crudest language yet. Biden squarely blamed his predecessor for the violence, calling it “one of the worst derelictions of duty by a president.”
“For the first time in our history, insurrectionists had come to stop a peaceful transfer of power in the United States. The first time: breaking windows, breaking doors, attacking police,” Biden said.
“He promised it would be wild, and it was. He told the crowd to fight like hell,” Biden continued. “As usual, he left the dirty work to others. He retired to the White House. As America was attacked from within, Donald Trump watched on television in a small private dining room near the Oval Office.”
However, The president warned that “Trump’s assault on democracy is not just a part of his past.” Biden said his rival continued to embrace political violence. He cited Trump’s statements that he will pardon those who participated in the assault on the Capitol, threats to retaliate against political opponents and comments that critics say downplayed an attack by a hammer-wielding assailant on the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“He thinks that’s funny,” Biden added. “How sick…” she continued, before pausing abruptly and clenching her fists.
Biden spoke at a community college near Valley Forge, a Revolutionary War historic site loaded with symbols of American history in a battleground state critical to its 2024 hopes.
Before his speech, the president and first lady Jill Biden attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the National Memorial Arch, built in honor of George Washington, in Valley Forge National Historical Park. And the two visited a structure used by Washington when he camped there with the Continental Army during a harsh winter.
Washington could have “become not a future president, but a future monarch.” Biden said. “Our leaders give power back to the people, and they do it willingly.”
Biden also noted that those who stormed the Capitol were waving “Trump flags and Confederate flags” as they marched past a portrait of Washington. The president has regularly tried to introduce Trump and other Republican candidates, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as committed to reversing the gains that black voters have made under his administration in an election cycle that has already seen numerous racial controversies.
He will take that message to Charleston, South Carolina, on Monday for a speech at Mother Emanuel AME, the historic Black church where a gunman espousing white supremacist views killed nine people in 2015. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another Republican presidential hopeful, was governor when the shooting occurred. After the shooting, Haley pressured lawmakers in her state to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.
However, Haley came under fire last month when she initially did not cite slavery as the cause of the American Civil War.
One of Biden’s top priorities this year will be to repair ties with Black voters, whose support for him has softened. Biden has credited Black voters with helping him win the 2020 election, and attracting them to the polls will be critical in November.
Making the case against Trump, the leader of the Republican Party, will be crucial as polls show Biden trailing him in key swing states. The Republican favorite leads Biden by 5 percentage points in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, according to a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll from December.
Biden and his campaign have ignored media coverage of the polls, saying that polls showing him trailing receive disproportionate coverage. And Biden has expressed confidence that his focus on democracy strikes a chord with voters. He also pushed that message ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats did better than expected in congressional races across the country.
Biden met with academics and historians earlier this week to discuss continuing threats to democratic institutions both in the United States and abroad. On Thursday, her campaign released its first ad of the year, a 60-second ad defending democracy.
“When the January 6 attack occurred, there was no question about the truth,” Biden said Friday. “Over time, politics, fear and money have intervened.”
“The rest of us, Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans, have a decision to make,” he continued. “I know mine.”