Susan Walsh – staff, AP
FILE - President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with CEOs about the economy in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, July 28, 2022. One month into his presidency, President Joe Biden made clear his distaste for even naming the man he had ousted from the Oval Office, declaring, “I’m tired of talking about Trump.” But now, Biden is eagerly naming and singling out the “former guy” in prepared remarks and on social media.
WASHINGTON (AP) — One month into his presidency, Joe Biden made clear his distaste for even naming the man he had ousted from the Oval Office, declaring, “I’m tired of talking about Trump.”
“The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people,” he said in a CNN town hall.
But now, Biden is eagerly naming and singling out the erstwhile “former guy” in prepared remarks and on social media, elevating Donald Trump in a way that Biden and White House aides didn’t do during the first 18 months of his term.
Speaking virtually to a group of Black law enforcement executives this past week, Biden accused the former president of stoking a “medieval hell” for police officers who fended off Jan. 6 rioters, adding that “Donald Trump lacked the courage to act.”
Biden’s Twitter feed repeated those words — a jarring sight for a White House that has tried to expunge any references to the former president and, in particular, his name.
And when Biden emerged from isolation after a bout with COVID-19, he pointedly noted that he could continue working from the White House residence while Trump had to be airlifted to the hospital for treatment after his own diagnosis, at a time when vaccines were not available and the then-president took a cavalier approach to mitigation measures.
For some Democrats, Biden’s willingness to engage directly with Trump was overdue.
“It’s like Lord Voldemort, right? You gotta say his name and show that you’re not afraid of him,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. “It’s good to see that the president is naming Donald Trump, as we all should.”
Biden’s increasingly combative posture comes as a stream of revelations pour out about Trump and his conduct during the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, and amid growing speculation that the Republican will launch a comeback bid as early as this fall.
Despite Biden’s sinking approval ratings, even among members of his own party, he still consolidates the vast majority of Democratic voters behind him when presented as the party’s choice against Trump in a hypothetical 2024 campaign.
The first major effort from Biden to zero in on Trump came Jan. 6, 2022, when he delivered a speech on the one-year anniversary of the riot. Biden condemned his predecessor for holding a “dagger at the throat of democracy” by spreading repeatedly disproven lies that Trump did not lose in 2020.
But even then, Biden refused to call out Trump by name, inviting questions about why.
“I did not want to turn it into a contemporary political battle between me and the president,” Biden explained after his remarks at the Capitol. “It’s way beyond that.”
Other Democrats say Biden, who campaigned on unifying a country riven by partisanship, was right to steer the spotlight away from Trump at a time when Democrats had regained control of Washington for the first time in a decade and were set to embark on an ambitious agenda and move on from the chaotic Trump years.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he, too, struggled how much to focus on the former president once Trump left office.
“I think a lot of us just hoped he would go away and if we stopped talking about him, everybody else would stop talking about him,” he said. “But that’s not how it’s turned out. He’s running for president and he still runs the Republican Party, and I don’t think we can disengage anymore.”
This past week, Biden left no doubt he was prepared — perhaps even eager — to directly challenge Trump in a way he hadn’t before.
In prerecorded remarks to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives’ annual conference, Biden made repeated references to the “defeated” former president who did nothing as law enforcement officers worked for hours to protect the Capitol as lawmakers met to certify Biden’s victory.
“The police were heroes that day. Donald Trump lacked the courage to act,” Biden said in his remarks. “The brave women and men in blue all across this nation should never forget that.”
Andrew Harnik – staff, AP
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at an America First Policy Institute agenda summit at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, July 26, 2022. One month into his presidency, President Joe Biden made clear his distaste for even naming the man he had ousted from the Oval Office, declaring, “I’m tired of talking about Trump.” But now, Biden is eagerly naming and singling out the “former guy” in prepared remarks and on social media.
Biden’s Twitter feeds amplified those words and promoted his repeated references to Trump. A tweet a day later noted that the “ex-president” opposes limiting “military-style weapons” that Biden says need to be barred.
On Wednesday, Biden’s release from isolation and his celebratory remarks in the Rose Garden offered him another chance to invoke Trump and their differences on a separate issue.
“When my predecessor got COVID, he had to get helicoptered to Walter Reed Medical Center. He was severely ill. Thankfully, he recovered,” Biden said. “When I got COVID, I worked from upstairs of the White House.” Biden emphasized that the vaccines, at-home tests and anti-viral treatments he enjoyed during his recovery were readily available to the American public.
White House aides believe those two topics — law and order, and management of the pandemic — are among the areas where Biden can make the strongest contrast with the previous administration. Biden himself has made no secret he is hungry to run against Trump again, telling an Israeli television station recently that he “would not be disappointed” about a potential rematch.
As for the former president, Biden’s tweets and comments have not come up in recent conversations between Trump advisers, according to two people familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private discussions.
“Joe Biden and the Democrats are destroying America, just like President Trump predicted,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said. “From a recession at home to wars abroad, there’s nothing Joe Biden can say that will distract from the suffering he has inflicted on the American people. His interns should stop writing lame Tweets and start writing a resignation letter.”
Biden’s new, more confrontational stance is another way that the White House has tried to draw a clearer contrast with Republicans before the November elections as Democrats are battered with the traditional headwinds faced by the incumbent party and contending with voter discontent over inflation and the general direction of the country.
Republicans are skeptical the strategy will work, even as Trump flirts with formally announcing a 2024 bid before the fall vote. They also worry his candidacy could tear away focus from the GOP’s effort to make the elections a referendum on the Democrats’ stewardship of Washington.
“I get it. If I was being held responsible for 9.1% inflation and a wobbly economy and southern border disarray, I’d probably try and change the subject too,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said Biden’s largely tempered public persona and his careful tendencies were what made him appealing to a broad swath of voters.
“But I think he’s coming to the same conclusion that the majority of the country has come to, which is that the former president attempted a coup d’etat,” Schatz said. “Although President Biden tries to avoid inflammatory rhetoric, I think he’s found that there’s no other way to say it.”
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.
The first hearing, aired in prime time and watched by more than 20 million viewers, set the stage for the next seven.
It laid out the conclusion that the panel would come back to in every hearing: that Trump conspired to overturn his own defeat, taking actions that sparked the violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters beat police and broke through windows and doors to interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory.
“January 6th was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6th, to overthrow the government,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “The violence was no accident. It represents seeing Trump’s last stand, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power.”
Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards (pictured), one of two witnesses at the first hearing, described what she saw outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 as a “war scene.” As some Republicans, including Trump, have tried to play down the violence of the insurrection, calling it “peaceful,” Edwards recalled the brutality she experienced on the front lines. She suffered a traumatic head injury that day as some of the first protesters barreled through the flimsy bike rack barriers that she and other officers were trying to hold.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Edwards testified. “There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up. … It was carnage. It was chaos.”
The committee has used clips of its interview with former Attorney General Bill Barr (pictured) in almost every hearing, showing the public over and over his definitive statements that the election was not stolen by Biden — and Barr's description of Trump’s resistance as he told the president the truth.
At the second hearing, the committee showed a clip of Barr recalling how he told Trump to his face that the Justice Department had found no evidence of the widespread voter fraud that Trump was claiming. Barr said he thought Trump had become “detached from reality” if he really believed his own theories and said there was “never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
“And my opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud and I haven’t seen anything since the election that changes my mind on that,” Barr said.
One question going into the hearings was what Trump and Vice President Mike Pence talked about in a phone call the morning of Jan. 6. The conversation came after Trump had pressured his vice president for weeks to try and somehow object or delay as he presided over Biden’s certification. Pence firmly resisted and would gavel down Trump's defeat — and his own — in the early hours of Jan. 7, after rioters had been cleared from the Capitol.
While only Trump and Pence were on the Jan. 6 call, White House aides filled in some details at the committee’s third hearing by recounting what they heard Trump say on his end of the line.
“Wimp is the word I remember,” said former Trump aide Nicholas Luna. “You’re not tough enough,” recalled Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security adviser. “It became heated” after starting out in a calmer tone, said White House lawyer Eric Herschmann.
“It was a different tone than I’d heard him take with the vice president before,” said Ivanka Trump.
Encouraged by Trump’s tweet, after the attack had started, that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done,” rioters at the Capitol singled out the vice president. Many chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” as they moved through the building. Pence evacuated the Senate just minutes before the chamber was breached, and later was rushed to safety as rioters were just 40 feet away.
Greg Jacob, the president’s lawyer, testified at the third hearing and said he had not known they were that close.
Jacob said Secret Service agents wanted them to leave the building but Pence refused to get in the car. “The vice president didn’t want to take any chance” that the world would see him leaving the Capitol, Jacob said.
At the committee’s fourth hearing, state officials detailed the extraordinary pressure the president put on them to overturn their states’ legitimate and certified results. Rusty Bowers (pictured), Arizona’s House speaker, told the committee how Trump asked him directly to appoint alternate electors, falsely stating that he had won the state of Arizona and not Biden.
Bowers detailed additional calls with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. “I will not do it,” Bowers told him, adding: “You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath.”
Georgia election workers Wandrea “Shaye” Moss (left) and her mother, Ruby Freeman, also testified in the fourth hearing, describing constant threats after Trump and his allies spread false rumors that they introduced suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of election fraud. The Justice Department debunked those claims.
The two women said they had their lives upended by Trump’s false claims and his efforts to go after them personally. Through tears, Moss told lawmakers that she no longer leaves her house.
In videotaped testimony, Freeman said there is “nowhere I feel safe” after the harassment she experienced.
When his efforts to overturn his defeat failed in the courts and in the states, Trump turned his focus to the leadership of the Justice Department.
Richard Donoghue (right), the acting No. 2 at the time, testified about his resistance to entreaties by another department official, Jeffrey Clark, who was circulating a draft letter recommending that battleground states reconsider the election results. Trump at one point floated replacing then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (center) with Clark, but backed down after Donoghue and others threatened to resign.
“For the department to insert itself into the political process this way, I think would have had grave consequences for the country,” Donoghue testified. “It may very well have spiraled us into a constitutional crisis.”
In a surprise sixth hearing, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson (pictured) recounted some of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, including his dismissive response when told that some in the crowd waiting for him to speak outside the White House were armed.
“I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t effing care that they have weapons,’” Hutchinson said. “'They’re not here to hurt me. Take the effin’ mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.'”
Upset that the crowd didn’t appear larger, Trump told his aides to take the metal-detecting magnetometers away. In the coming hours, he would step on the stage and tell them to “fight like hell.”
Hutchinson also described Trump’s anger after security officials told him he couldn’t go to the Capitol with his supporters after he had told them he would. She said she was told that the president even grabbed the steering wheel in the presidential SUV when he was told he couldn’t go.
For the president to have visited the Capitol during Biden’s certification, and as his supporters descended on the building, would have been unprecedented.
At its seventh hearing, the committee painstakingly reconstructed a Dec. 18 meeting at the White House where outside advisers to Trump pushing election fraud claims clashed with White House lawyers and others who were telling him to give up the fight.
The six-hour meeting featured profanity, screaming and threats of fisticuffs, according to the participants, as Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and others threw out conspiracy theories, including that the Democrats were working with Venezuelans and that voting machines were hacked. Pat Cipollone (pictured), the top White House lawyer, testified that he kept asking for evidence, to no avail.
Hours later, at 1:42 a.m., Trump sent a tweet urging supporters to come for a “big protest” on Jan. 6: “Will be wild,” Trump promised.
The final hearing focused on what Trump was doing for 187 minutes that afternoon, between his speech at the rally and when he finally released a video telling the rioters to go home at 4:17 p.m.
They showed that Trump was sitting at a dining room table near the Oval Office, watching Fox News coverage of the violence. But he made no calls for help — not to the Defense Department, the Homeland Security Department or the attorney general — even as his aides repeatedly told him to call it off.
In the video released at 4:17 p.m., as some of the worst of the fighting was still happening down the street, Trump told rioters to go home but said they were “very special.”
The committee showed never-before-seen outtakes of a speech Trump released on Jan. 7 in which he condemned the violence and promised an orderly transition of power. But he bristled at one line in the prepared script, telling his daughter Ivanka Trump and others in the room, “I don’t want to say the election is over.”