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Biden invokes George Washington, calls Trump a threat to democracy

Visit to Revolutionary War site timed to anniversary of Capitol attack by Trump backers

President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Montgomery County Community College on Friday in Blue Bell, Pa.
President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Montgomery County Community College on Friday in Blue Bell, Pa. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden pitched his own reelection as a defense of democracy Friday, visiting a historic Revolutionary War site to accuse Republican Donald Trump and his supporters of having “abandoned the truth” about what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The president, speaking at a campaign event in Blue Bell, Pa., after touring General George Washington’s headquarters in nearby Valley Forge, focused on the former president and current GOP frontrunner’s proposal to overturn his 2020 election loss by using the Insurrection Act, which could allow deploying military forces on the streets of America.

Told at a rally featuring Trump that they needed to stop Congress from certifying an election he falsely said was stolen, Trump’s supporters overran Capitol barricades, attacked police and roamed the halls, looking for lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence. Biden directly referenced a gallows erected outside the Capitol and the chants to hang the then-vice president.

“At the time, even Republican members of Congress and Fox News commentators publicly and privately condemned the attack. As one Republican senator said, Trump’s behavior was embarrassing and humiliating for the country,” Biden said. “As time has gone on, politics, fear, money all have intervened.”

Speaking a day ahead of the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection effort, Biden said the way Trump acted on that day and his delay in taking action to call off the mob, “was among the worst derelictions of duty by a president in American history.” Biden’s exposition of threats to democracy was focused almost entirely on Trump himself, not on other competitors in the Republican primary process.

“The guy who claims law and order sows lawlessness and disorder,” Biden said, before quoting Trump saying he would be “a dictator on day one” if elected to a second, nonconsecutive term in November.

The president’s campaign was not alone in highlighting efforts to undermine democratic institutions ahead of Saturday’s anniversary. State parties and Democratic leaders from Illinois and Pennsylvania to Oklahoma to Nevada were addressing the topic on Friday, as well.

Biden’s remarks came after a visit to the Valley Forge in which he and first lady Jill Biden watched a wreath-laying ceremony at the National Memorial Arch, a monument commemorating the winter that Washington’s army spent at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. They also took a private tour of the stone house that Washington used as his headquarters.

The current president referred to the first president throughout his speech, noting that the insurrectionist mob inside the Capitol passed through the Rotunda, which features a painting by John Trumbull of Washington resigning his commission as commander of the armed forces − when, as Biden put it, he could have made himself a “monarch.”

‘Who are we?’

The speech was designed to contrast Trump with Washington; Biden called his immediate predecessor a threat to freedoms that dictators often take away.

“If democracy falls, we’ll lose that freedom,” the president said. “Look at the authoritarian leaders and dictators Trump says he admires.”

The president rattled off a list of autocrats and dictators about whom the former president has said good things, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“In America, genuine leaders, democratic leaders with a small ‘d’ don’t hold on to power relentlessly. Our leaders return power to the people, and they do it willingly because that’s the deal,” Biden said.

In a sense, the president’s speech Friday could have just as easily been given this summer in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention if the Republican caucus and primary process goes along with the polling data and Trump wins the Republican nomination to set up a 2020 rematch.

“We all know who Donald Trump is. The question we have to answer is: Who are we? That’s what at stake, who are we?” Biden said.

Ahead of his speech, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel issued a statement saying Biden was being “divisive” and “wants to further divide Americans with polarizing rhetoric to distract from his catastrophic policies.”

Trump issued a statement that clipped posts by “Team Trump” on his company’s social media platform that said it was Democrats who attacked democracy by calling for Trump’s ouster within days of his inauguration.

“Since Joe Biden took office, the Democrat Party has relentlessly weaponized the legal system against Pres. Trump,” one post said. “Biden has also demonized and slandered everyone who didn’t vote for him as a ‘threat’ to the country.”

The president’s event in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Friday was moved up a day from the actual anniversary of Jan. 6 because of an impending winter storm. Biden’s next scheduled campaign stop will be Monday, when he speaks at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., which is in the first state where Democrats are officially contesting the 2024 presidential primary.

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