U.S. President Donald Trump finally acknowledged his election loss to Joe Biden Thursday, coming as close as he ever has before to conceding a day after his supporters violently sieged the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to overturn the result.
In a video released on Twitter — which had locked Trump out of his account for 12 hours Wednesday for repeatedly encouraging the rioters — the outgoing president urged calm and defended his months-long legal challenges and false claims of voter fraud.
“My campaign vigorously pursued every legal avenue to contest the election results,” he said. “My only goal was to ensure the integrity of the vote.
“In so doing, I was fighting to defend American democracy.”
Not once in the video did Trump say Biden won the election fairly, nor did he even mention his successor by name. He did, however, say that he would focus on “the smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”
“A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20,” he added.
The statement also ignored Trump’s repeated attacks on the electoral process that served to anger his supporters, a majority of whom still believe the election was stolen. Trump also spent the two months since Election Day attacking judges who dismissed dozens of lawsuits from the campaign and his supporters, while threatening Republicans who didn’t support him that their jobs were in jeopardy.
The increasingly heated rhetoric culminated in Wednesday’s siege on the Capitol that interrupted a joint session of Congress, where lawmakers were working to count the Electoral College votes. At least five people died, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, and dozens of other police officers were injured while House members and senators were forced to shelter in their offices and basement rooms.
The lawmakers were eventually able to continue the count, finally sealing Biden’s victory early Thursday morning.
In his Thursday statement, Trump condemned the rioters, but falsely claimed that he “immediately deployed the National Guard.” Multiple reports have confirmed Trump hesitated to do so, leaving Vice-President Mike Pence to make the call.
“To those who engaged in acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country,” he said. “To those who broke the law, you will pay.
“Tempers must be cooled, and calm restored.”
During Wednesday’s riot, Trump released a video statement telling his supporters to go home, but adding “we love you” and that he “understand(s) your pain.” The video and other statements were removed from social media platforms and led to his accounts being locked down.
While Twitter granted access to Trump’s account again Thursday, Facebook and Instagram said it would keep Trump locked out of his accounts for the rest of his term, which ends at noon on Jan. 20.
“Serving as your president has been the honour of my lifetime,” he continued. “And to all of my wonderful supporters, I know you are disappointed, but I also want you to know that our incredible journey is only just beginning.”
The White House also condemned the violence earlier Thursday. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the actions of the rioters “goes against everything this administration stands for.”
Trump’s attempt to shift toward a more orderly transition comes amid mounting pressure on Pence and Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and move Trump out of office with less than two weeks left in his term. The amendment would install the vice-president in the Oval Office if the president is found mentally unfit to discharge their duties.
Top Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said they are ready to begin an expedited impeachment process if the amendment isn’t invoked.