More than a year into his administration, President Joe Biden is still living in his predecessor's shadow as the Jan. 6 House Select Committee investigates former President Donald Trump and his closest aides over the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol.
But while the Democratic-led committee is underscoring the differences between Biden and the man he beat in 2020, it is energizing Trump's base as the former president stokes speculation regarding a possible rematch between the rivals in 2024.
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Biden won in 2020, in part, because people believed he is the opposite of Trump, yet rehashing the comparison through the Jan. 6 committee may also be detrimental to the sitting president and Democrats if it distracts from any positive case they may have before the 2022 midterm elections.
Since its inception, Biden and his staff have been careful with their comments concerning the Jan. 6 committee. The panel has become highly politicized, even with the inclusion of two Republicans, exacerbated by the Biden Justice Department's role in prosecuting Trump allies for declining to help Congress.
And although Democrats successfully nationalized California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom's recall challenge last summer, Virginia Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin distinguished himself from Trump last fall and organized a localized campaign focused on rising consumer prices and the prospect of critical race theory being taught in the commonwealth's schools.
“The Democrats' obsession with President Trump and Trump supporters is a political loser, as we saw during the November elections," Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund president Jenny Beth Martin told the Washington Examiner. "The problem is when Democrats use the criminal process to punish Trump officials and supporters, as we're seeing with Mark Meadows, among others."
Another Jan. 6 committee complication for Biden is that his congressional colleagues are "dividing our country," even though the president "promised to bring our country together," according to Martin.
"The Democrats' policies are failing, as we see with soaring inflation, a border crisis, and a disastrous Afghanistan pullout," she said. "Obsessing over the 45th president won't save them."
The Jan. 6 committee voted in prime time this week to hold Meadows, Trump's last White House chief of staff, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to further cooperate with its investigation. Meadows had already shared a trove of documents, such as text messages, and published a memoir detailing his Trump experience as well.
And news coverage of the committee's contempt vote has been amplified by the implication of Fox News personalities. The panel revealed Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham were among those who texted Meadows on Jan. 6, urging him to implore Trump to discourage people from swarming the Capitol Building in an effort to stop the certification of the Electoral College results.
Fox News has largely ignored Hannity's and Ingraham's Jan. 6 texts. In contrast, competitors CNN and MSNBC aired most of the committee vote live, including Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney reading Meadows's messages aloud.
"It's disappointing, and unfortunately, not surprising, that some of the very same individuals who were willing to mourn, condemn, and express horror over what happened on Jan. 6 in private were totally silent in public or, even worse, were spreading lies," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday of the texts.
Biden will "commemorate" Jan. 6, "no question," according to Psaki. For Biden, Jan. 6 "was one of the darkest days in our democracy" and an investigation is necessary to decrease the likelihood of a repeat event, Psaki said.
"I don't have anything to report to you at this point in time about our plans," she added. "I expect we will have more as we get closer to the end of the year."
Biden, who pledged to be "boring" while simultaneously heralding "a new normal" after the COVID-19 pandemic, has struggled to capture the public's attention as he pushes, for instance, the importance of vaccines and his spending bills. However, the Jan. 6 committee's flurry of activity has allowed his relatively light public appearance schedule to go unnoticed.
Trump's outsize presence in Republican politics as a one-term president eligible to run again has repercussions for the 2024 primary too. Former Vice President Mike Pence's trip to New Hampshire last week, for example, piqued interest in his ambitions after people chanted "hang Mike Pence" on Jan. 6.
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“I’m dedicating all of my energy to the process of really winning back the Congress and winning statehouses in 2022. And then in 2023, we’ll look around and we’ll go where we’re called," he said during the visit.