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Biden cautions against Trump reelection after Jan. 6 Capitol riot, a day ‘we nearly lost America’

BLUE BELL, Pa. — BLUE BELL, Pa. (AP) — President Joe Biden issued a warning on Friday, stating that Donald Trump’s attempts to regain the White House in 2024 present a serious danger to the nation. This statement came a day before the third anniversary of the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol orchestrated by then-President Trump’s supporters in an effort to maintain his position of power.

Delivering his address near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where George Washington and the Continental Army endured a difficult winter almost 250 years ago, Biden emphasized that the events of Jan. 6, 2021, represented a moment when “we nearly lost America — lost it all.” He underscored that the upcoming presidential race, likely to be a rematch with Trump, who is currently the overwhelming frontrunner for the GOP, is “all about” the survival of American democracy.

The president’s first political event of the election year aimed to provide clarity for voters this fall. Biden, who entered back into the political sphere because he believed he was the most capable of defeating Trump in 2020, sees the defense of democracy as the linchpin in convincing voters to reject Trump once again.

“We all understand who Donald Trump is,” Biden remarked. “The question we must address is who are we?”

Biden laid out Trump’s involvement in the Capitol attack, highlighting how a mob of the Republican’s supporters overran the building while lawmakers were counting Electoral College votes that certified Democrat Biden’s victory. The rioters overwhelmed authorities, resulting in over 100 police officers being bloodied, beaten, and attacked.

“What has Trump done? He has hailed these insurrectionists as ‘patriots,’” Biden criticized. “He has also pledged to pardon them if he returns to office.” He condemned Trump for “glorifying” instead of 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 by suicide, a woman who was shot and killed by police as she attempted to break into the House chamber, and three other Trump supporters who authorities said suffered medical emergencies.

Biden pointed out that by “attempting to distort the facts of Jan. 6, Trump is endeavoring to steal history just as 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. The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether Trump could be kept off the ballot because of his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Speaking in Iowa Friday, Trump reiterated his false claims about winning the 2020 election and his assertion that the Capitol rioters were patriotic. He referred to the long prison sentences handed down for some offenders as “one of the saddest things” and labeled them “hostages,” individuals convicted of crimes like assaulting police officers on Jan. 6 or being involved in seditious conspiracy.

In his remarks, Biden seized on Trump’s grievances and his promises to take revenge on his political adversaries.

“Donald Trump’s campaign is about him,” Biden stated. “Not America. Not you. Donald Trump’s campaign is fixated on the past, not the future.”

He added: “There’s no confusion about who Trump is or what he intends to do.”

Ahead of his address, Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill, took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Valley Forge National Arch, honoring the troops who camped there from December 1777 to June 1778. He also toured the home that served as Washington’s headquarters.

Biden referenced Washington’s decision to resign his commission as the leader of the Continental Army after American independence was secured, and the painting commemorating that moment that resides in the Capitol Rotunda, to portray Trump as unworthy of Washington’s legacy.

“He could have clung to that power as long as he desired,” Biden remarked of Washington. “However, that wasn’t the America he and the American troops of Valley Forge had fought for. In America, our leaders don’t cling to power endlessly. Our leaders return power to the people – willingly.”

Vice President Kamala Harris was en route to South Carolina on Saturday, where she, too, was scheduled to address the Jan. 6 riot.

“On that day, we witnessed violence, chaos, and lawlessness, even though some so-called leaders still claim it was a peaceful protest led by, quote, ‘great patriots,’” she was set to say, according to her prepared remarks.

Although the chaos of Jan. 6 affected members of both political parties, it is now being remembered in a largely polarized manner, reflecting the broader divisions in a politically fragmented country.

In the aftermath of the attack, 52% of U.S. adults attributed a significant amount of responsibility to Trump for Jan. 6, as per the Pew Research Center. By early 2022, this number decreased to 43%. The percentage of Americans who absolved Trump of any responsibility grew from 24% in 2021 to 32% in 2022.

A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released this week revealed that about 7 in 10 Republicans believe too much focus is being placed on the attack. Only 18% of GOP supporters believe that protesters who entered the Capitol were “mostly violent,” down from 26% in 2021, while 77% of Democrats and 54% of independents maintain that the protesters were mostly violent, a figure essentially unchanged from 2021.

Biden mentioned that “politics, fear, money” have led many Republicans to abandon their condemnation of Trump following the Jan. 6 attack.

“These MAGA voices who know the truth about Trump and Jan. 6th have forsaken the truth and forsaken democracy,” Biden remarked. “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.”

Since his inauguration in 2021, Biden has frequently referenced the perils of Jan. 6, standing on the same Capitol steps where police officers were grappling with rioters just two weeks earlier. On the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack, Biden stood in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, a historic place where the House of Representatives used to convene before the Civil War. On Jan. 6, rioters had overrun the area, with some searching for lawmakers who had taken cover.

“They didn’t seek to uphold the will of the people,” Biden commented on the rioters. “They sought to deny the will of the people.”

On the second anniversary, Biden conferred the nation’s second-highest civilian award to 12 individuals involved in defending the Capitol during the attack.

Friday’s appearance included supporters and young people inspired by the attack to engage in politics, according to campaign advisers.

AP writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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