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WASHINGTON — President Biden predicted Thursday that the harrowing, previously unseen security footage from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that has been presented during President Trump’s impeachment trial could move some Republican senators to vote for a conviction.
"My guess is some minds may be changed," Biden said as he spoke to reporters before a meeting in the Oval Office.
The White House has, thus far, actively avoided weighing in on the impeachment trial, in which Trump is being charged with inciting the violence that occurred at the Capitol while his election loss to Biden was being certified in the Senate chamber. Democratic impeachment managers have relied heavily on footage from the Captiol riot and Trump’s comments surrounding the event in making their case.
Biden, who was participating in a meeting with senators and senior administration officials on the importance of investing in infrastructure Thursday morning, addressed the impeachment after brief initial remarks when reporters asked if he had any reaction to the footage that was presented during the trial.
"I'm focused on my job ... to deal with the promises I made. And we all know we have to move on," Biden said.
Prior to the attack, Trump spoke at a “Stop The Steal” rally on the National Mall, where he reiterated his false claim that the election was fraudulent and urged his supporters to “fight.” Many in the crowd marched straight to the Capitol where they breached barricades, stormed inside and ransacked offices.
The FBI is conducting an ongoing investigation into the attack and has made multiple arrests, including some alleged participants who were accused of indicating they wanted to capture and hurt lawmakers.
During the trial, impeachment managers from the House Democratic caucus presented new footage that highlighted just how close the attackers came to lawmakers that day. They also showed graphic footage of the violence that officers from the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies faced as they attempted to keep the crowds back. Multiple officers were seriously injured, and five deaths were linked to the violence, including that of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.
While Biden commented on the footage, he indicated that he has not been watching the trial live but saw the clips on evening news broadcasts. He said he was working on other matters and went "straight through last night until a little after nine." As Biden began to comment on the clips, White House staffers began ushering the press pool out of the Oval Office and repeatedly shouted “thank you!” as the president spoke.
The White House has declined to weigh in on most aspects of the impeachment proceedings over the past several weeks. After the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for the second time, then president-elect Biden released a statement in which he avoided cheering on the House’s decision, though he did cast Trump as responsible for inciting violence on Jan. 6.
“This criminal attack was planned and coordinated. It was carried out by political extremists and domestic terrorists, who were incited to this violence by President Trump,” the statement read.
Biden has signaled that he believes it is appropriate for Trump to face a trial in the Senate. However, even in his statement on the House impeachment vote, he kept the focus elsewhere and urged senators not to delay in passing additional economic relief amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
“This nation also remains in the grip of a deadly virus and a reeling economy. I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” Biden said.
If Trump is convicted in the Senate trial, it would open the door for lawmakers to vote on whether the former president could be barred from holding federal office again. Despite Biden’s willingness to cast Trump as unfit on the campaign trail, Biden has said such a decision should be determined by Congress alone.
Over the last week, press secretary Jen Psaki has batted away questions from reporters on Biden and the White House’s perspective on impeachment. “Joe Biden is the president. He’s not a pundit,” Psaki told reporters in the briefing room Tuesday.
After being pressed by reporters, Psaki acknowledged that impeachment was “a big story in the country” but reiterated that the White House's focus is on “getting people back to work and getting the pandemic under control.”
While Democrats have a slim Senate majority and some Republican lawmakers supported Trump’s impeachment, a two-thirds majority is required for conviction. On Tuesday, the Senate held a vote on one of the central arguments made by Trump’s legal team, which is a claim that it is unconstitutional to impeach a former president. The Senate voted mostly along party lines that Trump’s second trial did not violate the constitution.
Six Republicans joined Democrats for a 56-44 vote, which was widely seen as an early indicator that support for conviction was below the 67-vote threshold.
After Biden’s remarks on Thursday, one Democratic Senate aide said they “remain skeptical” that the footage, which provoked visibly strong reactions from many lawmakers in the chamber, could get enough Republicans to change their minds and vote to convict Trump. However, the aide suggested the footage would be enough to sway any nonpartisan audience.
“It’s hard to see how anyone with a shred of a conscience could sit through that presentation with its graphic and overwhelming mountain of evidence against Trump and not at least open themselves to the possibility that it might finally be time to do the right thing,” the aide said. “If this were a court of law, the prosecution would have a slam-dunk case.”
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