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Biden focuses on Trump in speech near Valley Forge: "Democracy is on the ballot"

Biden calls Trump a threat to democracy
In Valley Forge speech, Biden calls Trump a threat to democracy 03:13

In his first campaign speech of the election year, President Biden warned the nation against the perils of compromising democracy, and the threat he and his campaign believe former President Donald Trump poses to American democracy.

The president's address near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on Friday marks three years since supporters of Trump rioted at the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Biden said George Washington could have remained president for the rest of his life after America won her independence, but that's not the vision Washington had for America. In the Revolutionary War, "America made a vow — never again would we bow down to a king," Mr. Biden said.

"Whether democracy is still America's sacred cause is what the 2024 election is all about," Mr. Biden said. "The choice is clear. Donald Trump's campaign is about him, not America, not you. Donald Trump's campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future. He's willing to sacrifice our democracy to put himself in power. Our campaign is different." 

By "trying to rewrite the facts" of Jan. 6, Trump is "trying to steal history the same way he tried to steal the election," Mr. Biden claimed.

"Trump's mob wasn't a peaceful protest; it was a violent assault," Mr. Biden insisted. "They were insurrectionists, not patriots. They weren't there to uphold the Constitution; they were there to destroy the Constitution."

It is becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Biden expects the former president to prevail in the GOP primaries and he will face his 2020 opponent again in the 2024 general election. Mr. Biden has long criticized the GOP front-runner in speeches instead of criticizing others in the Republican field. 

"Democracy is on the ballot. Your freedom is on the ballot," Mr. Biden said. 

Mr. Biden said the "competing forces between solidarity and division is perennial, but this time, it's so different."

"You can't have a contest, can't have a contest if you see politics as an all-out war instead of a peaceful way to resolve our differences," the president said. "All-out war is what Trump wants." 

At a rally in Sioux Center, Iowa, following the president's remarks, Trump referred to Mr. Biden's speech as a "pathetic, fear-mongering campaign event" and said that it's Mr. Biden who is a threat to democracy.

The president's campaign says it will be sharpening its criticism of Trump, focusing the campaign's messaging on the argument that Trump is a threat to democracy. It's language Mr. Biden has long used and that formed the basis of his 2020 campaign. At the time, he referred to Trump as an "existential threat" to America — and that was before the Jan. 6 Capitol assault.

Earlier Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland marked the somber day in remarks on Capitol Hill.

"For our country, January 6 was an unprecedented attack on the cornerstone of our system of government — the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next," Garland said. "For many of the law enforcement officers defending the Capitol that day, January 6 was also dangerous, painful and personal."

As of this week, 1,240 people have been identified and charged with crimes related to their participation in the Capitol riot and 452 of them were charged for allegedly assaulting law enforcement officers, the FBI said in a news release marking three years since the attack. 

"Three years after thousands of people violently attacked the U.S. Capitol and assaulted law enforcement officers in an unsuccessful attempt to block our democracy's peaceful transfer of power, the FBI and our partners continue to succeed in holding them accountable," David Sundberg, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said in a statement. 

Trump's federal trial on charges that he tried to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is slated to begin in March, when primary season will be in full swing. He is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights. He has repeatedly insisted he did not break the law.

Mr. Biden's choice of Valley Forge as the location of Friday's speech alludes to the winter of 1777-1778, which marked one of the darkest periods of the Revolutionary War for George Washington's Continental Army. Even though soldiers were plagued by unrelenting cold, illness and food shortages, the troops persevered in their pursuit of independence. The president laid a wreath at Valley Forge National Historic Park and toured Washington's old headquarters before his speech. 

Olivia Rinaldi contributed to this report.

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