In striking language Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden excoriated President Donald Trump for "inciting a mob" to attack the U.S. Capitol, calling it one of "the darkest days in the history of our nation," and "an unprecedented assault on our democracy."
"We could see it coming. The past four years, we've had a president who has made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done. He unleashed an all-out assault on our institutions of our democracy from the outset. And yesterday was but the culmination of that unrelenting attack,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden’s comments followed the unprecedented hours-long assault on the heart of America’s government that left four people dead, and many more injured following violent clashes in and around the halls of Congress.
In his remarks, Biden was critical of what he viewed as the inequitable law enforcement response to Wednesday’s riots, pointing out disparities in how the mostly-all-white pro-Trump rioters was treated compared to past protests over racial inequality.
"[I]f it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday ... they would have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that's true, and it is unacceptable, totally unacceptable," Biden said.
Biden’s comments, while some of his most blistering remarks against Trump to date, harken back to the message Biden cited as a reason for launching his campaign, slamming the president for inflaming tensions, and warning about the impact Trump’s continued presidency would have on the country.
"I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation," Biden predicted in a video announcing his 2020 candidacy in April 2019.
With less than two weeks until he takes the oath of office, Biden’s prediction of Trump’s aberration is being tested, as the events of Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol further highlight the nation's deep divisions.
Amid the fallout, Biden formally introduced his nominee for attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland, who, if confirmed, will shoulder the task of leading the Department of Justice after the tumult of the Trump administration.
Biden praised Garland as a man who "embodies honor, and decency, integrity, fidelity to the rule of law and judicial independence."
"More than anything, we need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the Department of Justice in this nation that's been so badly damaged, and so many former leaders of that department in both parties have so testified and stated that," Biden said.
Garland, 68, serves as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and had been nominated to the Supreme Court by former President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia. But he was never given a confirmation hearing by the Senate Republicans, which left the vacancy open for President Donald Trump to fill.
In addition to Garland, Biden also announced former Obama Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco as his deputy attorney general nominee.
Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice under Obama, is his nominee for assistant attorney general and Kristen Clarke is his nominee for assistant attorney general for DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
In their remarks, Biden and Garland noted the department’s roots in dealing with domestic terrorism, pointing to the events at the Capitol as evidence of the danger in undermining the rule of law.
“As everyone who watched yesterday's events in Washington now understands, if they did not understand before, the rule of law is not just some lawyer's turn of phrase. It is the very foundation of our democracy,” Garland warned.
“The essence of the rule of law is that like cases are treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends, another for foes, one rule for the powerful, another for the powerless, one rule for the rich and another for the poor, or different rules depending upon one's race or ethnicity,” he continued.
Garland will take the reins of a department that was so often caught at the center of politically-charged controversies during Trump’s four years in office. Throughout his campaign, Biden committed to have an independent Justice Department and attorney general, a point he reiterated on Thursday while announcing Garland.
"I want to be clear to those who lead this Department who you will serve. You won't work for me. You are not the president or the vice president's lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It's to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation, to guarantee justice," Biden said, a sentiment Garland agreed to.
"I could not agree more, and I would not have agreed to be considered for attorney general under any other conditions," Garland said.
Biden’s Justice Department will likely face challenges during his administration, including if and how to deal with allegations of wrongdoing by President Trump while in office.
Biden has insisted any decisions about charges against Trump would be made by his attorney general and the Department, but made his view clear Thursday that a president is not above reproach.
“A judiciary doesn't serve the will of the president or exist to protect him or her. We have three co-equal branches of government, co-equal. Our president is not above the law. Justice serves the people,” Biden said.