Biden confronts Trump over Jan. 6, warns of 'dagger at the throat of democracy'

Until now, he has largely avoided doing so in a direct, personal way.

January 06, 2022, 10:19 AM

President Joe Biden took the oath of office just days after the violent attack on the Capitol last Jan. 6, but he has fastidiously tried to prevent those unprecedented circumstances -- or his predecessor -- from dominating his first year in the White House.

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A look at the days, events and conversations leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, from the eyes of anti-government groups, extremism experts and several ABC News correspondents who were at the Capitol that day.

But on the anniversary of the insurrection Thursday, he confronted former President Donald Trump in a direct, personal way, in some of his strongest language yet.

"We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here's truth," he said, speaking from Statuary Hall in the Capitol that rioters ransacked last Jan. 6. "The 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. Because he sees his own interest as more important than his country's interest, than America's interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost."

On Jan. 6, ABC News Live will provide all-day coverage of events marking one year since the attack on the U.S. Capitol and the continuing fallout for American democracy.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Statuary Hall on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Statuary Hall on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Biden continued, "And so at this moment we must decide what kind of nation we are going to be. Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people?"

Referring to Trump and his allies, he said, "Those who stormed this Capitol, and those who instigated and incited, and those who called on them to do so, held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy," Biden said.

"They didn't come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here in rage -- not in service at American rather and service of one man," he said. "Those who incited the mob -- the real plotters -- were desperate to deny the certification of this election."

While Biden has used searing, soaring rhetoric to criticize the attack, the rioters and those Republican politicians who have minimized the violence, the president has spent much of his political capital tackling other crises facing the country: the coronavirus pandemic, the hobbled economy and the nation's crumbling infrastructure.

Instead, he has made clear he thinks delivering results for all Americans, Democrats and Republicans – with elusive bipartisan backing – is key to confronting domestic strife.

"To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words," Biden said in his inauguration speech on Jan. 20. "It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity."

PHOTO: A man calls on people to raid the building as supporters of President Donald Trump clash with police and security forces as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
A man calls on people to raid the building as supporters of President Donald Trump clash with police and security forces as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

But the "epiphany" he once predicted Republicans would have after Trump left office has not materialized. In an ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted last week, 71% of Republicans said they sided with Trump's false claims that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election.

As Republicans at the state level have worked to restrict voting over the past year, congressional Democrats and civil rights advocates have called on Biden to do more to protect voting rights.

Biden has, in fact, thrown his support behind voting rights bills in Congress that Republicans have so far stymied, and he has gone so far as to back an exception to Senate rules to allow voting rights legislation to proceed.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks about voting rights at the National Constitution Center, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia.
President Joe Biden speaks about voting rights at the National Constitution Center, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

But with not all Senate Democrats on board, the legislation remains stalled.

Last month, as his "Build Back Better" social bill also struggled to gain the support of those same moderate Democrats, Biden signaled an openness to elevating the push for voting rights.

"There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights," he told reporters. "It’s the single-biggest issue."

Biden has called GOP efforts to restrict voting a "21st century Jim Crow assault."

"The denial of full and free and fair elections," he said during a July speech, "is the most un-American thing that any of us can imagine, the most undemocratic, the most unpatriotic, and yet, sadly, not unprecedented."

PHOTO: A mob of supporters of President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
A mob of supporters of President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
Leah Millis/Reuters, FILE

But when it comes to more personally confronting Trump, Biden has generally avoided even uttering his predecessor's name.

He has only even referred to the "big lie" – Trump's disproven allegations that the 2020 elections was stolen from him -- a couple times in public.

"The 'big lie' is just that," Biden said in July. "A big lie."

But the president has voiced support for the Justice Department going after those who allegedly participated in the Jan. 6 attack, and he has shared Trump-era documents with a congressional committee investigating it – over the former president's objections.

PHOTO: Residents wait in line to cast ballots for the Senate runoff elections at a polling location in Atlanta, Jan. 5, 2021.
Residents wait in line to cast ballots for the Senate runoff elections at a polling location in Atlanta, Jan. 5, 2021.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

In October, asked if he thought the Justice Department should prosecute those who defy that House select committee, which has subpoenaed top Trump administration officials, Biden said, “I do, yes.”

While he later called his comment inappropriate – saying during a town hall held by CNN that he did not intend to impinge upon the department's integrity – he repeated that he thought those who did not respond to the committee "should be held accountable."

"No matter where it goes," Biden told ABC "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir last month. "Those responsible should be held accountable."

ABC News' Cecilia Vega and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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