By Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Friday will mark three years since the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S Capitol with a warning to voters that Republican Donald Trump is a threat to the country’s standing as a free democracy.
Trump, who was president from 2017 to 2021 and is again seeking the Republican nomination for president, contested his defeat in the 2020 election, prompting thousands of his supporters to attack the U.S Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed bid to stop formal certification of the result.
Speaking near George Washington’s Revolutionary War-era headquarters in Pennsylvania, Biden, a Democrat, will inaugurate the 2024 campaign year with an implicit pitch that a vote for him means a continuation of American style of democratic government and a vote for Trump a leap into an uncharted future.
Biden was scheduled to deliver his remarks a day before the Jan. 6 anniversary to avoid a forecast winter storm.
Biden aides expect the 2024 race will be closely contested and see Pennsylvania as a must-win. Biden won Pennsylvania, where he was born, in 2020 with 50.01% of the vote. In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania with 48.58% of the vote.
What impact Biden’s Friday speech will make in a politically polarized country 10 months away from Election Day is an open question.
Biden has long used his platform to warn Americans about Trump, but that has done little to shake the faith of tens of millions of the ex-president’s supporters, who have given him a commanding lead for the Republican nomination in public opinion polls.
In addition, Biden’s arguments have done little to soothe his own supporters’ concerns about the state of the economy or his age, 81.
Trump, 77, has portrayed the 2024 race in similarly existential terms, calling his criminal trials a persecution and describing Biden as a crook.
Despite facing federal charges over election interference, Trump in recent months has teased acting as a dictator on “day one” and pledged to investigate, incarcerate and otherwise take revenge on his political opponents.
Trump is expected to spend Saturday’s anniversary campaigning with rallies in Iowa, which hosts the first Republican nominating contest of the presidential race on Jan. 15. His leading opponents have largely avoided raising the Jan. 6 attack or Trump’s role in it.
Lawyers for Trump have disputed that he engaged in insurrection and argued that his remarks to supporters on the day of the 2021 riot were protected by his constitutional right to free speech.
Authorities are seeking information about more than 80 people who committed violence at the Capitol and remain unidentified, Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told reporters on Thursday. Graves’ office has overseen the prosecution of more than 1,200 people so far accused of committing crimes during the attack.
Graves said authorities have two more years to charge rioters before the statute of limitations expires.
“Our democracy is fragile,” he told reporters during a briefing on the investigation into the attack. “We cannot replace votes and deliberation with violence and intimidation.”
Biden’s Friday event is officially billed as a re-election event, his most significant foray on the campaign trail to date after he spent much of 2023 touting his signature legislation and the economy at White House events not technically associated with the campaign.
In 2024, Biden aides plan to pair the threat-to-democracy argument with more bread-and-butter topics about U.S. job growth, falling inflation, healthcare, gun violence and abortion rights, hoping to reassemble the coalition of 81 million voters that delivered Biden to the White House in 2020, with his party then in control of both houses of Congress.
Democrats in the 2022 mid-term elections lost control of the House of Representatives to Republicans, but maintained control of the Senate with a slim margin.
Trump holds a marginal, two-point lead in a head-to-head matchup with Biden, 38% to 36%, with 26% of respondents saying they were unsure or might vote for someone else, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Biden prepared for the long-planned speech by inviting a group of historians and scholars to the White House for a wide-ranging conversation on the threats to the country’s democracy.
The audience is expected to include people directly affected by “election denialism and the events of Jan. 6,” according to a person familiar with the planning of the speech.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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