US President-elect Joe Biden cited anti-Semitic expressions by rioters in the US Capitol this week in saying that his Justice Department should prosecute them.
“Yes,” he said Friday when a reporter asked if his Justice Department should prosecute the marauders whose looting of the Capitol in hopes of stopping Congress’s affirmation of Biden as president-elect resulted in five deaths.
“They should be treated as a bunch of thugs, insurrectionists, anti-Semites,” Biden said while addressing reporters in his home state of Delaware after an event introducing some of his Cabinet choices.
Biden has until now said he would not advise his Justice Department, seeking to draw a distinction with US President Donald Trump, who pressured his attorneys-general to leave his friends alone and to prosecute his enemies. On Friday, taking questions from reporters, Biden said he would leave the charges to the discretion of the Justice Department, although it was clear he believed prosecution was merited.
Biden suggested Trump too should face investigation for his speech on Wednesday, in which he encouraged protesters to march on the Capitol.
“The difference here is this had the active encouragement of a sitting president of the United States and the way in which the breakdown of security occurred needs to be investigated,” he said.
Biden noted that a key reason he ran for president was that he’d “thought for a long, long time that President Trump wasn’t fit for the job.”
“I’ve been saying for now, well, over a year, he’s not fit to serve,” Biden said. “He’s one of the most incompetent presidents in the history of the United States of America.”
As to the rioters, he said: “These are a bunch of thugs, they’re terrorists, domestic terrorists and that will be a judgment for the justice department as to what the charges should be, but the fact is they should be prosecuted.”
He quoted a slogan on a t-shirt that appeared in reporting of the riots on Wednesday. “‘Six million is not enough,’ I mean come on,” he said.
The reference was to 6MWE, “Six Million Wasn’t Enough,” referring to the Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.
There was anti-Semitic and racist symbology at the storming of the Capitol, but the particular photo with the t-shirt Biden seemed to be referring to was erroneously identified on social media with the insurrection, and was taken at an earlier far-right event.
'Very special' people on capitol hill:
A man with a Camp Auschwitz shirt, on the back it says Staff. And a man with a shirt that says 6MWE, which means 6 million weren't enough. #Fascism2020 #CapitolBuilding #Capitol #January6th #TrumpIsAFascist #MagaMadness #CoupAttempt pic.twitter.com/tGs9SPq1ta
— Ingeborg Nijzink (@IngeborgNijzink) January 7, 2021
Biden would not explicitly back efforts to remove Trump from the White House and insisted that impeachment was up to Congress. Instead, Biden said he was focused on the start of his own administration on Jan. 20, and he said his top three priorities are beating back the coronavirus, distributing vaccines fairly and equitably and reviving the struggling economy.
His comments laid bare the political balance Biden has worked to strike in the months since winning the presidential election. He has continued to sharply criticize Trump and nearly every facet of his administration but also worked to keep the public’s attention focused on what the new administration will do rather than indulging recriminations against the last one.
Biden nonetheless conceded that Trump “exceeded my worst notions about him. He’s been an embarrassment” and likened the “damage done to our reputation around the world” to “tin horn dictatorships.” The president-elect also suggested that a key hurdle to removing Trump was that he has less than two weeks remaining in his term.
“If we were six months out, we should be doing everything to get him out of office. Impeaching him again, trying to evoke the 25th Amendment, whatever it took,” Biden said. “But I am focused now on us taking control as president and vice president on the 20th and to get our agenda moving as quickly as we can.”
Trump would be the only president to be impeached twice. The House impeached him in late 2019, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him. Removal from office could also prevent Trump from running for president in 2024, or ever holding the presidency again.
Most Democrats, and many Republicans, put the blame squarely on Trump after hundreds of protesters broke into the Capitol on Wednesday and caused destruction and mass evacuations. The president had urged his supporters to protest as Congress was counting the electoral votes that confirmed Biden’s win. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer.
Biden called what happened a “god-awful debacle” and said it had “the active encouragement of the president of the United States.”
The president-elect’s comments came hours after Trump said that he planned to skip Biden’s inauguration, becoming the first president in more than 150 years — and just the fourth in US history — to do so. Biden said he’d be “honored” to have Vice President Mike Pence at the swearing-in, but didn’t feel the same way about Trump.
That’s “one of the few things he and I have ever agreed on,” Biden said. “It’s a good thing, him not showing up.”