WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden slammed former President Donald Trump on Monday for lacking "the courage to act" as police defending the U.S. Capitol suffered through "medieval hell" on Jan. 6, 2021 — a rare and direct attack pre-empting Trump's plan to deliver a law-and-order-themed speech Tuesday in the nation's capital.
The two men may be on a collision course for a rematch of their hard-fought 2020 election.
Biden has said he will seek re-election, and Trump advisers say it is likely he will announce his own bid before November's midterm elections.
"You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-cop," Biden said. "You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-American."
Drawing from evidence presented at Thursday's prime-time Jan. 6 committee hearing, Biden ripped Trump for sitting idly in a private White House dining room "while brave law enforcement officers" were "subject to the medieval hell for three hours, dripping in blood, surrounded by carnage, face to face with a crazed mob that believed the lies of the defeated president."
The committee investigating the insurrection argues that Trump conducted an illegal campaign to keep power that included spreading the lie that he had won; a plot to seat "fake electors"; and efforts to coerce state officials, the Justice Department leadership and then-Vice President Mike Pence to help him overturn the will of the voters.
When all else failed, committee members say, he incited supporters to storm the Capitol to stop the congressional count of electoral votes, culminating in violence against police and efforts to find and harm Pence and congressional leaders.
Trump’s team says there is no cognitive split-screen dissonance between his planned public safety-oriented message Tuesday and his actions on Jan. 6, which have been detailed in the series of high-profile congressional hearings.
What Trump senses is an opportunity to address Americans’ concern about their own safety, an adviser said.
“President Trump sees a nation in decline that is driven, in part, by rising crime and communities becoming less safe under Democrat policies,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said in a statement to NBC News. “His remarks will highlight the policy failures of Democrats, while laying out an America First vision for public safety that will surely be a defining issue during the midterms and beyond.”
With Biden’s approval ratings well below 40 percent in most polls — and at 37.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of recent surveys — Trump allies see an opportunity to strike while the current president’s iron is cold. While he may not announce his candidacy in Tuesday's speech to the America First Policy Institute, the implications of his remarks are obvious.
The conference “is a smart and strategic way for him to lean into ’24 by showing the stark contrast, the binary choice of America under Trump and America under Joe Biden,” said Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to the Trump-centric policy nonprofit group who was counselor in Trump’s White House.
“The policy and performance differences are unmistakable,” Conway said.
As he takes the stage at the Marriott Marquis, just a mile and half from the Capitol, to discuss public safety, the House committee investigating his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection continues to gather evidence.
In recent hearings, the panel has played video clips of rioters saying they believed they were following Trump's instructions, images of police being attacked with makeshift weapons and audio of Pence's security team as it desperately sought a safe path through a crowd that wanted to hang the man first in line to the presidency.
All of it, the committee argues, was done at Trump's bidding, with his support and to his merriment. In a prime-time hearing Thursday, the panel focused on Trump’s refusal — for more than three hours — to call off the mob. He was aware that police were being beaten and that Pence's life was in danger.
NBC News reported early last month that some Trump advisers believe he will announce a third bid for the presidency — following his 2016 victory and his 2020 loss — before November’s midterm elections. Described by people close to him as eager to get back into the political game as a candidate, rather than as a kingmaker, Trump has strongly hinted that he will run and that he will make it clear publicly sooner rather than later.
“In my own mind, I’ve already made that decision,” he told New York magazine recently. The only question, he said, was whether to announce in the midst of a midterm sprint that will determine which party controls the House and the Senate come January.
Some Republicans are wary that he could overwhelm the midterm messaging of their candidates — a fear underscored by Biden's remarks Monday. But with a series of fellow Republicans raising money, visiting early states and enacting policies popular with the base, Trump may want to crowd out potential competitors.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, second to Trump in national polling by a wide margin, finished ahead of the former president in recent surveys in New Hampshire and Florida and trailed by only a few points — within the margin of error — in Michigan.
Whatever Trump says Tuesday, his mere appearance at America First Policy — a group run by Brooke Rollins, who directed the Domestic Policy Council in his White House — will be taken by the political class and many of his supporters as yet another sign that he is plotting a bid.
The group’s chief communications officer, Marc Lotter, a former Trump White House aide, said Trump’s speech — which he had not seen — is part of a broader argument for Trump-style policies.
“The goal is obviously to start laying out the policy vision for the future, whether it is for Congress, whether it’s for statehouses, all the way up to the White House,” Lotter said.