In his most sustained and blistering attack on former president Donald Trump since taking office, President Joe Biden used the anniversary of the Jan 6 assault on the Capitol to condemn the “defeated former president” for trying to rewrite history and for casting the attackers of a year ago as patriots.

Without using his name throughout his attack but making more than a dozen references to “the former president”, Biden said in a speech that lasted just under 30 minutes Thursday in the Capitol’s historic Statuary Hall where rioters had laid siege: “For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol. You can’t love your country only when you win.”

Biden has typically avoided speaking directly about his predecessor since taking office, but in his speech he didn’t: “We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. The former president of the United States of America has spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.”

Added the president: “His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.

“Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so,” he said, “held a dagger at the throat of America, at American democracy.”

After his speech, Biden spoke to reporters and said he didn’t mention Trump by name because he wanted to avoid a “contemporary political battle”.

Asked by a reporter if “calling [Trump] out” would “divide more than it heals”,

Biden responded: “The way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the wound. You can’t pretend. This is serious stuff. You’ve got to face it.”

Moments after his speech, Trump fired back with written statements from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

“This political theater is all just a distraction for the fact that Biden has completely and totally failed,” Trump wrote. “The Democrats want to own this day of January 6th so they can stoke fears and divide America,” he added. “I say. Let them have it because America sees through theirs (sic) lies and polarizations.”

Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump’s, tweeted after Biden’s remarks: “What brazen politicization of January 6 by President Biden. I wonder if the Taliban who now rule Afghanistan with al-Qaida elements present, contrary to President Biden’s beliefs, are allowing this speech to be carried?”

But on Jan 7, 2021, one day after the riot at the Capitol, Graham said at a news conference: “It breaks my heart, that my friend, a president of consequence, were to allow yesterday to happen. And it will be a major part of his presidency. It was a self-inflicted wound. It was going too far.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Thursday that Jan 6 was “a dark day for Congress and our country”. He said that he supports “justice for those who broke the law” and criticized Democrats, saying they are trying to “exploit this anniversary to advance partisan policy goals”.

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney Utah, who unlike McConnell was among seven Republican senators who voted last February to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting the riot, said in a statement Thursday, “We ignore the lessons of January 6 at our own peril.

“Democracy is fragile; it cannot survive without leaders of integrity and character who care more about the strength of our Republic than about winning the next election,” he said. “I said last year that the best way we can show respect for voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. The responsibility that elected officials have in this regard is fundamental to reversing the malaise gripping our current politics and ensuring that our democracy endures.”