WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden called Wednesday for the restoration of “simple decency” as a mob incited by his predecessor stormed the U.S. Capitol and delayed Congress from certifying the results of November’s election.
Biden had planned to deliver a speech focused on how to revive the economy and provide financial relief for small-business owners reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, in remarks from a theater stage in his native Delaware. But shortly before he was to begin speaking, demonstrators broke into the Capitol building, reaching as far as the House floor.
“At this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” Biden said. He called it “an assault on the rule of law like few times we have ever seen it.”
The Capitol building was locked down and police with guns drawn moved in as Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were evacuated to secure locations. National Guard troops were deployed and a citywide curfew called for shortly after dusk, as rioters continued to occupy the seat of Congress for hours.
“I call on this mob to pull back and allow democracy to go forward,” the president-elect said.
In an address that took less than 10 minutes and was televised against a split screen of the still-occupied Capitol building, Biden attempted to project calm and to say that a deeply divided country can still come together — while also expressing outrage.
He stopped short of accusing President Donald Trump of treason but said the events “bordered on sedition.” He also called on the president to “go on national television now” and “demand an end to the siege.”
“At their best, the words of a president can inspire,” Biden added. “At their worst they can incite.”
The White House did not immediately respond to Biden’s demand. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany urged protesters to disperse and top Republicans in Congress also denounced the violence and urged the mob to leave the Capitol. Trump released a video and tweeted that he was “asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful” but made no immediate move to undertake a national address.
The unrest erupted as a joint session of Congress had convened to certified Biden’s election victory over Trump. But, in anticipation of that occurring, thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators amassed outside the Capitol. The president himself addressed the crowd, which cheered his baseless claims of voter fraud and protested the results of a free and fair election simply because the candidate they support lost it.
Trump’s supporters then moved to besiege the Capitol — leading to unsettling scenes of chaos and violence unseen in Washington in recent memory.
Biden’s original speech was delayed by more than an hour as the president-elect and aides tore up his scheduled remarks and worked to craft a new statement addressing the scene in the nation’s capital.
There didn’t appear to be additional security around Biden or his motorcade. But as the president-elect huddled backstage, agents on his U.S. Secret Service detail stood in their places in front of the stage, which featured four American flags, for more than hour.
Upon taking the stage, Biden said the chaos and violence at the Capitol “do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.”
“The work of the moment and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy, of decency, of honor, of respect, the rule of law,” the president-elect said. “Just plain, simple decency. The renewal of a politics that’s about solving problems, looking out for one another, not stoking the flames of hate and chaos.”
After concluding his remarks, Biden answered a question from a reporter who asked if he was worried about his safety on Inauguration Day in Washington on Jan. 20.
“I am not concerned about my safety, security or the inauguration,” he said.
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