President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday slammed the supporters of President Donald Trump who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol as “domestic terrorists” and emotionally lamented how the members of the mob might have been met with a far harsher law enforcement response had they been Black.
Calling Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol “one of the darkest days in the history of our nation” and an “unprecedented assault on our democracy,” Biden said the violence of the Trump-flag-toting mob was “not dissent, not disorder — it was chaos.”
“They weren’t protesters. Don’t dare call them protesters. They were a riotous mob, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists. It’s that basic. It’s that simple,” Biden said during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, to introduce his nominees to lead the Justice Department. “And I wish we could say we couldn’t see it coming, but that’s not true. We could see it coming.”
Biden recalled a text conversation he’d had over the last day with his granddaughter about how differently law enforcement officers treated the rioters from how they treated Black Lives Matters protesters during summer demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently from the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” he said, recalling the words of his granddaughter.
“We all know that’s true. And it’s unacceptable. Totally unacceptable,” Biden added, his voice growing loud as he stabbed his right index finger against his lectern for emphasis.
Riveted Americans watching the chaos unfold Wednesday on television, computer and mobile screens across the country and around the world, have expressed concern and anger on social media that law enforcement waited hours before figuring out a way to clear the Capitol of the rioters, almost all of whom were white. The approach was in stark contrast to how some law enforcement operations cracked down on protests for racial justice over the summer in many cities.
Biden, meanwhile, didn’t hesitate to again pin the violence on Trump, who he said had been a “president who’s made his contempt for our democracy, the Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done.”
He then turned his attention to the purpose of the event: to announce Merrick Garland, the federal judge whom Republicans denied a seat on the Supreme Court in 2016, as his nominee for attorney general.
“More than anything, we need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the Department of Justice in this nation that’s been so badly damaged,” Biden said before introducing Garland as the right person to do that.
Garland, 68, been as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997.
Garland, a moderate veteran jurist, is seen in Biden’s circle as someone who could help restore the Justice Department’s independence — a priority of Biden’s after criticism that Trump exerted too much influence over the department.
“Our president is not above the law,” Biden said. “Justice serves the people. It doesn’t protect the powerful.”
Speaking after Biden, Garland said that “to serve as attorney general at this critical time” is “a calling I am honor and eager to answer” before tying that desire to Wednesday’s events.
“As everyone who watched yesterday’s events, now understands … the rule of law is not just some lawyer’s turn of phrase. It is the very foundation of our democracy.”
Garland rose to prominence in 2016 after President Barack Obama nominated him to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that opened up after the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
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Senate Republicans, who controlled the chamber then, refused to hold a hearing for Garland, let alone a vote. They cited at the time what they called the “Biden Rule” about judicial nomination hearings during election years, claiming that Supreme Court vacancies that emerge during election years should be filled by the next elected president. Trump ultimately nominated Neil Gorsuch for Scalia’s seat, and the GOP-controlled Senate confirmed him in 2017.
Senate Republicans disregarded the so-called rule four years later, when, just days before the 2020 election, they voted to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom Trump had nominated to fill the vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September.
Biden, at the event, also officially introduced Lisa Monaco as his selections for deputy attorney general, Vanita Gupta for associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke for assistant attorney general for civil rights.