President Biden Remembers January 6th, Challenges His Predecessor’s Lies and Looks Ahead

Here’s most of the president’s speech, delivered at the Capitol this January 6th (the video is available here):

To state the obvious, one year ago today, in this sacred place, democracy was attacked. Simply attacked. The will of the people was under assault. The Constitution, our constitution, faced the gravest of threats.

Outnumbered in the face of a brutal attack, Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police Department, the National Guard and other brave law enforcement officials saved the rule of law.

Our democracy held. We the people endured. We the people prevailed. 

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.

. . . I’m speaking to you today from Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. This is where the House of Representatives met for 50 years in the decades leading up to the Civil War. It is on this floor where a young congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, sat at desk 191.

Above him — above us — over that door leading into the rotunda is a sculpture depicting Clio, the muse of history. In her hands, an open book in which she records the events taking place in this chamber below. Clio stood watch over this hall one year ago today, as she has for more than 200 years. She recorded what took place. The real history. The real facts. The real truth. The facts and the truth that . . . you and I and the whole world saw with our own eyes. . . . 

Close your eyes. Go back to that day. What do you see? Rioters rampaging. Waving, for the first time inside this Capitol, the Confederate flag that symbolizes the cause to destroy America. To rip us apart. . . .  The mob breaking windows, kicking in doors, breaching the Capitol. American flags on poles being used as weapons, as spears. 

Fire extinguishers being thrown at the heads of police officers. A crowd that professes their love for law enforcement assaulted those police officers. Dragged them, sprayed them, stomped on them. Over 140 police officers were injured.

We all heard the police officers who were there that day testify to what happened. One officer called it “a medieval battle” and that he was more afraid that day than he was fighting the war in Iraq. They’ve repeatedly asked since that day, how dare anyone, anyone, diminish, belittle or deny the hell they were put through? We saw with our own eyes. Rioters menaced these halls, threatening life of the Speaker of the House, literally erecting gallows to hang the Vice President of the United States of America.

But what did we not see? We didn’t see a former president who just rallied the mob to attack sitting in the private dining room of the Oval Office in the White House watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours.

Police were assaulted. Lives at risk. The nation’s Capitol under siege. This wasn’t a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection. They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people; they were looking to deny the will of the people. They’re weren’t looking to uphold a free and fair election. They were looking to overturn one. Then weren’t looking to save the cause of America. They were looking to subvert the Constitution.

This isn’t about being bogged down past. It’s about making sure the past isn’t buried. That’s the only way forward. That’s what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth; they face up to it. . . . 

We are a great nation. My fellow Americans, in life there’s truth and tragically there are lies. Lies conceived and spread for profit and power. 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, 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 even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost.

That’s what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward. He’s done what no president in American history, in the history of this country, has ever, ever done.

He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people. While some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it, trying to uphold the principle of that party, too many others are transforming that party into something else. They seem no longer to want to be the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes. . . . 

So at this moment, we must decide: What kind of nation are we 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? Are are going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation.

The way forward is to recognize the truth. To live by it. The “Big Lie” being told by the former president, and many Republicans who fear his wrath, is that the insurrection in this country actually took place on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Think about that. Is that what you thought? Is that what you thought when you voted that day? Taking part in an insurrection? . . . Or did you think you were carrying out your highest duty as a citizen and voting?

The former presidents’ supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see election day is the day of insurrection and the riots that took place here on January 6 as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.

Here’s the truth. The election of 2020 was the greatest demonstration of democracy in the history of this country. More of you voted in that election than have ever voted in all of American history. Over 150 million Americans went to the polls and voted that day, in a pandemic, some at great risk to their lives. And they should be applauded, not attacked.

Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it. Not to strengthen and protect our democracy, but because the former president lost instead of looking at the election results in 2020, and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes. The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic. And frankly, it’s un-American.

The second “Big Lie” being told by the former president’s supporters is that the results of the election of 2020 can’t be trusted. The truth is that no election, no election in American history has been more closely scrutinized or more carefully counted.

Every legal challenge questioning the results in every court in this country that could have been made, was made and was rejected. Often rejected by Republican-appointed judges, including judges appointed by the former president himself. From state courts to the United States Supreme Court. Recounts were undertaken in state after state.

Georgia, Georgia counted its results three times, with one recount by hand. Phony partisan audits were undertaken long after the election in several states. None changed the results.

In some of them, the irony is the margin of victory actually grew slightly. So let’s speak plainly about what happened in 2020.

Even before the first ballot was cast, the former president was preemptively sowing doubt about the election results. He built his lie over months. It wasn’t based in the facts. He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth. He’s not just a former president. He’s a defeated former president.

Defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes. In a full and free and fair election. There is simply zero proof the election results are inaccurate. In fact, in every venue where evidence had to be produced, an oath to tell the truth had to be taken, the former president failed to make his case. Just think about this: The former president and his supporters have never been able to explain how they accept as accurate other election results that took place on November 3rd. Elections for governor, United States Senate, House of Representatives, elections in which they close the gap in the House.

They challenged none of that. . . . Governor, senators, House of Representatives, somehow those results are accurate on the same ballot. . . . The only difference: the former president didn’t lose those other races. He just the lost . . . his own.

Finally, the third “Big Lie being” told by the former president and his supporters is that the mob who sought to impose their will through violence are the nation’s true patriots. Is that what you thought when you looked at the mob, ransacking the Capitol, destroying property, literally defecating in the hallways, rifling through the desks of senators and representatives, hunting down members of Congress? Patriots? Not in my view. . . . 

You can’t love your country only when you win, you can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.

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. They didn’t come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here out of rage. Not in service of America, rather in service of one man. Those who incited the mob, the real plotters who were desperate to deny the certification of this election, to defy the will of the voters. Their plot was foiled. Congress, Democrats, Republicans stayed. Senators, representatives, staff, they finished their work the Constitution demanded. They honored their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

Look folks, now it’s up to all of us, we the people, to stand for the rule of law, to preserve the flame of democracy, to keep the promise of America alive. The promise is at risk, targeted by the forces that value brute strength over the sanctity of democracy, fear over hope, personal gain over public good. . . . We’re living at an inflection point in history, both at home and abroad.

We’re engaged anew in a struggle between democracy and autocracy, between the aspirations of the many and the greed of the few, between the people’s right of self-determination and self-seeking autocrat. From China to Russia and beyond, they’re betting that democracy’s days are numbered. They actually told me democracy is too slow, too bogged down by division to succeed in today’s rapidly changing complicated world. And they’re betting . . .  America will become more like them . . . They’re betting America’s a place for the autocrat, the dictator, the strong man. I do not believe that. That is not who we are. That is not who we have ever been. And that is not who we should ever, ever be. 

Our founding fathers, as imperfect as they were, set in motion an experiment that changed the world, literally changed the world. Here in America, the people would rule. Power would be transferred peacefully . . .  

The former president’s lies about this election and the mob that attacked this Capitol could not be further away from the core American values. They want to rule or they will ruin, ruin what our country fought for at Lexington and Concord, at Gettysburg and Omaha Beach, Seneca Falls, Selma, Alabama. What were we fighting for? The right to vote, the right to govern ourselves. The right to determine our own destiny. . . . 

As we stand here today, one year since January 6 2021, the lies that drove the anger and madness we saw in this place, they have not abated. So we have to be firm, resolute and unyielding in our defense of the right to vote and to have that vote counted. . . . 

I did not seek this fight brought to this Capital one year ago today. But I will not shrink from it either. . . . I will defend this nation, and I’ll allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.  . . . This is not a land of kings or dictators or autocrats. We’re a nation of laws, of order, not chaos, of peace, not violence. Here in America, the people rule through the ballot, and their will prevails. So let us remember together. We’re one nation, under God, indivisible, that today, tomorrow and forever at our best, we are the United States of America.

The Plan to Steal the 2020 Election

The House of Representatives has a committee that’s begun investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol. So far they haven’t begun sharing the results of their investigation. I hope they focus just as much on what didn’t involve any violence at all. The president and his co-conspirators had a step-by-step plan to steal the election. That’s deserving of much more attention than it’s received so far.

From Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times:

. . . As the full picture of Jan. 6 begins to come into view, I think we should consider it a kind of revolution or, at least, the very beginning of one. Joe Biden ultimately became president, but D____ T____’s fight to keep himself in office against the will of the voters has upturned the political order. The plot itself shows us how.

T____, we know, urged Mike Pence to reject the votes of the Electoral College, with the mob outside as the stick that would compel his obedience. “You can either go down in history as a patriot,” T____ told Pence, as recounted in this newspaper, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”

When this was first revealed, I assumed that T____ simply wanted Pence to do whatever it would take to keep himself in power. But this week we learned that he had an actual plan in mind, devised by John Eastman, a prominent conservative lawyer who worked with the former president to challenge the election results, a job that included a speaking slot at the rally on the National Mall that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

“We know there was fraud,” Eastman said to the crowd that would become a mob. “We know that dead people voted.”

“All we are demanding of Vice President Pence,” he continued, “is this afternoon at 1 o’clock, to let the legislatures of the states look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!”

These weren’t just the ravings of a partisan. Eastman was essentially summarizing the contents of a memo he had written on T____’s behalf, describing the steps Pence would take to overturn the election in T____’s favor.

First, as presiding officer of the joint session in which Congress certifies the election, Pence would open and count the ballots. When he reached Arizona, Pence would then announce that he had “multiple slates of electors” and would defer his decision on those votes until he finished counting the other states. He would make this announcement for six other swing states — including Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — before announcing that “there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those States” on account of election disputes and accusations of fraud.

At this point, Eastman explained, Pence could declare T____ re-elected, because — with seven states removed from the count — the president would have a majority of whatever electors were left, and the 12th Amendment states that the “person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed.”

If, for some reason, this didn’t fly, Eastman went on, Pence could then say that no candidate had won a majority and thus the election must go to the House of Representatives, where each state has a single vote and Republicans controlled a slim majority of state delegations, 26 to 24. If Democratic objections led both houses of Congress to split into their separate chambers to resolve the dispute, then Republicans could obstruct the process in the Senate and create a stalemate that would allow Republican-controlled state legislatures “to formally support the alternate slate of electors.”

As for the courts? Eastman argued that they don’t matter. “The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter.” If Pence has the power, then Pence should act and “let the other side challenge his actions in court.”

Eastman’s confidence throughout this memo (he dismisses potential Democratic objections as “howls”) belies his shoddy legal, political and constitutional thinking. For one, his argument rests on an expansive reading of the Twelfth Amendment for which there is no precedent or justification. The vice president has never directly counted electoral votes. “Beginning in 1793, and in every presidential election since,” the legal scholar Derek Muller notes in a piece debunking key claims in the memo for the website Election Law Blog, “the Senate and the House have appointed ‘tellers’ to count the electoral votes. These tellers actually tally the votes and deliver the totals to the President of the Senate, who reads the totals aloud before the two houses after the tellers, acting on behalf of Congress, have ‘ascertained’ the vote totals.”

The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, codified that practice into the Constitution. Congress would do the counting, and the vice president would simply preside over the process.

Eastman also asserted that the vice president could disregard the procedure specified under the Electoral Count Act because the law itself is unconstitutional. That, Muller notes, is controversial (and something Eastman himself rejected in 2000, in testimony before the Florida Legislature during the dispute between George W. Bush and Al Gore). And even if it were true, the 117th Congress, on its first day in operation, Jan. 3, adopted the provisions of the law as its rule for counting electoral votes, which is to say Pence had no choice but to follow them. His hands were tied.

Which gets to the politics of this scheme. If Pence were to disregard the rules and the history and seize control of the counting process, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would presumably have suspended the joint session, which relies on the consent of both chambers of Congress. “With a stalled and incomplete count because of a standoff between Pence and Pelosi,” the legal scholar Ned Foley writes in a separate Election Law Blog post, “the Twentieth Amendment becomes the relevant constitutional provision.” Meaning, in short, that at noon on Jan. 20, Pelosi would become acting president of the United States. Pence would lose authority as vice president (and president of the Senate) and the joint session would resume, with Congress putting its stamp of approval on Biden’s victory. . . . 

None of this should make you feel good or cause you to breathe a sigh of relief. Consider what we know. A prominent, respected member in good standing of the conservative legal establishment — Eastman is enrolled in the Federalist Society and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — schemed with the president and his allies in the Republican Party to overturn the election and overthrow American democracy under the Constitution. Yes, they failed to keep T____ in office, but they successfully turned the pro forma electoral counting process into an occasion for real political struggle.

It was always possible, theoretically, to manipulate the rules to seize power from the voters. Now, it’s a live option. And with the right pieces in place, T____ could succeed. All he needs is a rival slate of electoral votes from contested states, state officials and state legislatures willing to intervene on his behalf, a supportive Republican majority in either house of Congress, and a sufficiently pliant Supreme Court majority.

As it happens, T____ may well run for president in 2024 (he is already amassing a sizable war chest) with exactly that board in play. Republican state legislatures in states like Georgia and Arizona have, for example, used claims of fraud to seize control of key areas of election administration. Likewise, according to Reuters, 10 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada — have either declared the 2020 election stolen or demanded that authorities invalidate the results in their states. It is also not unlikely that a Republican Party with pro-T____ zealots at its helm wins Congress in November of next year and holds it through the presidential election and into 2025.

If T____ is, once again, on the ballot, then the election might turn on the manipulation of a ceremony that was, until now, a mere formality.

. . .  If this happens, it would be a revolutionary change. In this world, the voters, as filtered through the Electoral College, no longer choose the president. It becomes less a question of the rule of law and more one of power, of who holds the right positions at the right time, and especially, of who can bring the military to their side.

On Jan. 20, Joe Biden became president and D____ T____ slunk off to Mar-a-Lago to lick his wounds. But the country did not actually return to normalcy. Jan. 6 closed the door on one era of American politics and opened the door to another, where constitutional democracy itself is at stake.

There are things we can do to protect ourselves — legal experts have urged Congress to revise the Electoral Count Act to close off any Eastman-esque shenanigans — but it is clear, for now at least, that the main threat to the security and stability of the United States is coming from inside the house.

Unquote.

Yet, almost ten months later, there is no indication that the Department of Justice is interested in January’s attempt to steal the election non-violently. Nor have congressional Democrats all agreed on a plan to stop Republican politicians from using their official positions to steal future elections.

I Wish Everyone Realized How Serious This Is

Dan Rather, the former face of CBS News, is mad as hell (the page has an audio link if you’d rather listen to him read this):

. . . Where I find myself today: Usher out the children. Cover sensitive ears. Because this old reporter is full of a little fire. 

The topic at hand is the truth, and not some esoteric notion to be debated in a college philosophy seminar. This is a truth so urgent, so important, so obvious, that attempts to undermine it would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous. So here it is. 

Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. It wasn’t particularly close. He won the total national vote overwhelmingly and won decisively in the Electoral College. There is no credible suggestion to the contrary. Election officials confirmed it. The courts confirmed it. It is apparent to everyone who doesn’t live in an alternate reality, who doesn’t harbor seditionist impulses, who isn’t a craven opportunist, or who doesn’t marinate in the cesspool of these forces, otherwise known as Fox News. For those who suggest otherwise (who say that Biden is not the legitimately elected President of the United States), many have been deceived and others are willfully deceiving them for their own cynical, and dangerous, ends. 

And yet that’s where a majority of Republicans find themselves today, if you believe the polls. And it is certainly where a majority of elected officials are if you just listen to what they say, or more importantly don’t say. The origin of this lie-laden authoritarianism is the former president, who couldn’t fall back on his usual playbook of suing, sulking, and skedaddling to get himself out of the loser spotlight. So he decided to do what he does best, the tool he used to propel himself to the presidency. He lied. Not a small half-truth. Not a wee fib. Not even a bald-faced lie. A lie so big it deserves to be written as a proper noun — the Big Lie. 

This Big Lie led to violent insurrectionists storming the United States Capitol, attempting to stop final certification of election results. It has led to Republican state representatives falling over themselves to try to cut back on voting rights. And how do they try to justify it? They say their supporters have lost faith in the voting system. But that is because their supporters have been lied to by the same politicians who are now using that as an excuse to stifle democracy. Propaganda and authoritarianism play on in a destructive feedback loop. . . . 

Now to be fair, not EVERY Republican has fallen in line. Take the high-profile case of Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president, Dick Cheney. She’s certainly no liberal . . . but she has had the temerity to say what her colleagues won’t, that the would-be emperor has no clothes . . . [So] her fellow House Republicans are coming for her like a political version of Murder on the Orient Express . . . 

Who thrives in such an environment? Craven opportunists like Elise Stefanik. You would think this Harvard-educated congresswoman from upstate New York would know better about the Constitution and the ridiculousness of the Big Lie, but she long ago pegged her future to prostrating at the altar of [the former president]. And now she is poised to replace Cheney in Republican leadership. Some conservative groups are grumbling that Stefanik’s voting record is far more “liberal” than they would like, but . . . whatever tenuous links the Republican Party had to a consistent ideology [are now broken]. It’s now a cult of personality, not a political party. And fealty is prized over all else. . . .

It brings me no joy in saying that one of the factors that is exacerbating this dangerous era in our national history is a Washington press corps that is struggling to make sense of a disorienting landscape. The bedrock of American democracy, for better and worse, has been a stable two party system — with some notable moments of exception. The press is used to two opposing forces waging battle over policy. At least nominally. Now the no man’s land between Republicans and Democrats is over a belief in democracy itself and not things like taxes or foreign policy.

Once again, this is not a theoretical musing. Is it too much to say that giving oxygen to the Big Lie, let alone actively espousing it, is a form of sedition? Full stop. Think about it. Is lying about the truth of last November making a mockery of any pledge of patriotism? No matter how many flag lapel pins you wear or how often you quote the “Founding Fathers,” to deny a fair and honest election and the orderly transfer of power risks placing you squarely in the camp of dictators and autocrats, and helping with the demise of democracy.

The press needs to start taking this even more seriously than it does now. Every elected Republican who has played footsie with the Big Lie should have to defend that record before they can speak on any other topic. They can’t be allowed to dodge. The questions aren’t difficult. Did Joe Biden win the election? Where is your evidence to the contrary? And because there is no such evidence, if they try to quote something, they should be pressed on the truth. Live interviews are particularly problematic because politicians can stretch out a string of lies so long that they can spin their way to a commercial break. Those with a history of such actions should not be given prominent platforms for their performance art. 

The Big Lie must be the context for everything that is taking place in Washington, and political stories across the country. It is not old news. January 6 is not old news. This denial of reality is the animating principle driving the Republican Party. We can’t talk about legislation in Washington, immigration, climate change, fiscal policy, foreign policy, civil rights, education, or any other issue politicians are “debating” without talking about the Big Lie. . . . 

Republicans desperately want the mainstream press to cover the daily news cycle through the lens of traditional party politics. At the same time, they go on their propaganda channels and stir up their base against the mechanics of fair and open elections. They spread the poison of illegitimacy to attack the Biden Administration. On Fox News you get a concerted and coordinated attack. Outside of that echo chamber you get what was once the normal news diet of a spectrum of different stories. But this is not a normal news environment. This is an attack on American values, and our ability to continue to function as a government that represents the will of the majority of Americans. The Big Lie is everything right now and the press and the American people must not provide safe harbor for it to continue to metastasize. 

I want to end with a note of some optimism. I believe the Big Lie is so ludicrous and outrageous that it can be made to collapse under the weight of its own perfidy. If it is put into the proper spotlight, if it becomes so radioactive that big business, the press, and the public at large refuse to bestow any legitimacy to those who traffic in it, then it can and will be defeated. . . .

Unquote.

Some in the press are finally referring to a Republican lie as a lie, which is progress. But it’s hard to believe anything but the passage of time (a lot of time) will weaken the Big Lie’s hold on what is now a reactionary cult.

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post, who is much less optimistic than Dan Rather, explains why:

Let’s not beat around the bush: The Republican Party has pretty much lost its mind. In the time since the 2020 election, rather than trying to make a new start after the disaster of the [previous four] years, it has become more radical and more extreme. Most important of all, it has emphatically and comprehensively rejected democracy itself.

Now here’s the scariest part: There’s almost no reason to believe that this will hurt the ability of Republicans to win elections and take back the power they’ve lost. . . . 

Outside of a few truly deranged members, almost all elected Republicans in Congress know that [their candidate] lost. But they’re making a calculation that because of polarization, it doesn’t matter how extreme they get, what kind of lies they encourage people to believe, or what kind of damage they do to our system. If they can keep their base angry, it will give them the path back to power . . . despite the fact that the Republican Party is still in thrall to the most disastrous president of any of our lifetimes, one whose incompetence helped result in hundreds of thousands of American deaths and the implosion of our economy.

Yes, [he] lost. But not by the 23-point margins of the 1964 and 1972 elections. By just 4½ percentage points.

In today’s Republican Party, polarization doesn’t just mean there’s almost nothing the party could do that would cause its support to collapse. It means there is literally nothing it could do.

. . . [The Republican] base remains sizable enough that they’re always in a position to win, even with those defections. And at the state level, they not only hold the bulk of the power, they’ve gerrymandered state legislative seats so ruthlessly that in some places it’s essentially impossible for Democrats to take control no matter how resoundingly they win the support of the electorate.

So show me the Republicans in Washington who will lose their seats for being too supportive of [their leader] and the “big lie” of the stolen election. . . . The combination of gerrymandering, geographical sorting and polarization means there are almost none. The party can get steadily more unhinged and more implacably opposed to democracy, with consequences for its electoral fortunes that are temporary at most.

All it would take to return them to complete power in Washington is an ordinary midterm election [when the president’s party usually loses seats] followed by an economic downturn in 2024, whereupon whichever cynical extremist they nominate for president could sneak into the White House.

We keep waiting for the moment when the country says, “Now you’ve gone too far, Republicans,” and sends them into oblivion. But the truth is, they see no reason to change the path they’re on. . . .