Biden forcefully condemns Trump’s ‘web of lies’ in Jan. 6 anniversary address

Solemn ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol Thursday replaced the violent scenes of rioters ransacking the building one year ago. It was also a day when a sitting president denounced the man he succeeded — in stark terms. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage, and joins Judy Woodruff with White House correspondent Geoff Bennett with more.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On this January 6, solemn ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol replaced the violent scenes of rioters ransacking the building one year ago.

    It was also a day when a sitting president denounced the man he succeeded in stark terms.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: My fellow Americans…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today, a speech, a location and an anniversary which were all unprecedented.

  • Joe Biden:

    One year ago today, in this sacred place, democracy was attacked.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In one of the oldest parts of the Capitol, President Biden took on the January 6 attack with his most direct confrontation yet of his predecessor.

  • Joe Biden:

    We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie.

    And here's the truth. 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. He can't accept he lost.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The words echoed inside Statuary Hall, a place that was filled with pro-Trump rioters one year ago, a mob that wanted to stop the electoral count and the Biden win.

    He recounted the scene that day in historic terms.

  • Joe Biden:

    Rioters rampaging, waving for the first time inside this Capitol a Confederate Flag that symbolized the cause to destroy America, to rip us apart. Even during the Civil War, that never, ever happened.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The address was unusual for President Biden, who has often resisted drawing attention to 2020 and to what is called the big lie from former President Trump about election fraud.

    Biden didn't mention Trump by name, but he did level very clear charges.

  • Joe Biden:

    For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol. But they failed. They failed.

    And on this day of remembrance, we must make sure that such an attack never, never happens again.

    Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: We fight like hell.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mr. Trump fomented the attack, the president said, and then let it continue.

  • Joe Biden:

    What did we not see? We didn't see a former president, who had just rallied the mob to attack — sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Former President Trump responded shortly after President Biden's remarks with several statements lashing back.

  • He wrote:

    "Biden used my name to further divide America. The political theater is all just a distraction for the fact Biden has totally and completely failed."

    And Mr. Trump doubled down on the false claim that the election was fraudulent.

    That incredible divide and Mr. Trump's sway in his party were evident on the House floor, which met for a brief January 6 commemoration and moment of silence. Nearly no Republicans attended.

    But among the few, a very big name:, former Vice President Dick Cheney. He attended with his daughter Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Reporters asked his thoughts on how current Republican leaders have handled January 6, sparking remarkable pushback from a top party member.

    Dick Cheney, Former Vice President of the United States: It's not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Cheney used to be considered among the most hard right, but those who hold that position now, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, showed the divide by holding their own news conference.

    All this as many members simply wanted to address the harm and their experiences from last January 6.

  • Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA):

    I'm emotional because my memories are very similar to many of yours.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The House held an unusual event, an opportunity for members to give testimonials.

  • Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE):

    Those of us trapped in the Gallery, we lived it, ducking, crawling, under, over railings, hands, knees, the sounds, the smells. We had a front-row seat to what lies, hate, or plain old misinformation conjures.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The January 6 Committee did not meet, but has indicated it hopes for public hearings soon and a report in coming months.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now, along with our chief Washington correspondent, Geoff Bennett, who's at the White House.

    So, Lisa, you have been at the Capitol most of this day.

    Tell us a little bit more about what you're picking up there on this day of looking back.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, the feeling today was reflective, and the tone was soft and quiet, to be honest.

    In fact, I want to show you. Just ended a few minutes ago was a vigil held by congressional leaders, mostly Democrats there, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    Really, today seemed to me to be about an idea of healing and about members dealing with their own personal memories, very different from what I have been experiencing in last year, which is members talking about the greater political high stakes.

    Those, however, are still evident. I spoke with one Democratic senator who came to the Capitol today, told me she is determined, that January 6 makes her more determined about their agenda.

    All that said, Judy, I have been speaking to so many House members this week, and I have to tell you that Democrats, lawmakers that I spoke to, did not seem to have a really clear message, a real counterpunch to President Trump's false charges about January 6, to his following.

    They seemed to have different messages, until today, when President Biden spoke. Speaking to some of those same Democratic lawmakers today, they said they heard something different than they heard before. And one, in fact, said it was as if President Biden said what had been on his mind all along.

    So, we will see if that changes how Democrats act going forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And picking up on that, Geoff, we did hear some in Lisa's report of what President Biden had to say.

    But you have learned a little more about what was behind the thinking in having him deliver this message today.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    That's right.

    And the president, as you know, has described this moment as a battle for the soul of the nation. And his remarks this morning, I'm told by source familiar with his thinking, were an acknowledgment that really trying to unite the country starts with a forceful condemnation and a direct calling out of the forces that seek to divide us.

    And so, for President Biden, for much of the past year, he's really tried to avoid talking at length about Donald Trump. And I'm told that's for a few reasons. One, he didn't want to try to elevate him or sort of draw more attention to the lies the former president told about the election that he lost.

    He also, Judy, didn't want to really personalize what he sees as being a debate that should focus on trying to defend and preserve the democracy.

    But, really, all of that changed today, President Biden, standing in that Capitol he so reveres, with a top-to-bottom takedown of Trump and Trumpism.

    And on his way out of the Capitol, the president was asked by a reporter if his words might have done more to divide than heal. And the president shot back. He said, no. He said, understanding how to move forward requires an understanding of the extent of the wound.

    And we should also mention that the speech in many ways sets the foundation for Democrats as they move forward and try to renew their push for voting rights. There are a pair of bills that are stalled in the Senate. And so this is going to be a messaging battle that really starts with the kind of direct language we heard from the president and vice president today, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was a noticeable turn.

    Geoff Bennett at the White House, Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you both.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Sure.

Listen to this Segment