President Joe Biden’s campaign Saturday condemned Republican former President Donald Trump for sidestepping a decades-old, Illinois ballot-access tradition this past week in which candidates pledge against advocating for an overthrow of the government.
The Democrat’s campaign statement comes in response to a WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times report published earlier Saturday that showed Trump did not voluntarily sign the state’s loyalty oath as part of his package of ballot-access paperwork submitted Thursday to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
That omission, coming just days before the third anniversary of the Jan. 6th insurrection for which Trump has been criminally charged, is a departure from his presidential candidacies of 2016 and 2020, when he affixed his signature to the oath both times.
“For the entirety of our nation’s history, presidents have put their hand on the Bible and sworn to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States – and Donald Trump can’t bring himself to sign a piece of paper saying he won’t attempt a coup to overthrow our government,” Biden campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said in a statement Saturday. “We know he’s deadly serious, because three years ago today he tried and failed to do exactly that.
“This is the same man who thinks American troops who died protecting the ideals outlined in the Constitution are suckers and losers – yet calls the convicted felons who violently assaulted and killed police officers on January 6th ‘hostages’. He can’t fathom putting anything – our country, our principles, or the wellbeing and safety of the American people – above his own quest for retribution and power,” Tyler said.
The Trump campaign responded Saturday to the Biden jab.
“President Trump will once again take the oath of office on January 20th, 2025, and will swear ‘to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said.
Under Illinois law, presidential candidates wanting to be on the state’s March 19th primary ballot had to turn in their nominating petitions to the State Board of Elections on Thursday or Friday, and the loyalty oath is a time-honored part of that process.
A WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times analysis of those petitions found Biden and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis both signed the oath — as did several lower-tier Trump acolytes in Illinois, but not Trump.
Trump’s omission has stumped some of his critics.
“Why wouldn’t he sign it?” asked former Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who served on the House Jan. 6th select committee and said he signed the state loyalty oath in each of his six terms as congressman.
“Has he been advised maybe not to sign it because maybe there’s some legal exposures…given that oath, if he signed it, would be a violation of everything he actually did on Jan. 6th, 2021, and leading up to it?” Kinzinger said.
The oath is a vestige of the red-baiting era of former U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
In part of the oath, candidates swear they are not communists nor affiliated with communist organizations. In the latter part of the oath, candidates attest that they “do not directly or indirectly teach or advocate the overthrow of the government of the United States or of this state or any unlawful change in the form of the governments thereof by force or any unlawful means.”
Signing it is entirely optional now after federal courts ruled it unconstitutional on free-speech grounds, but Illinois lawmakers left it in state law. Countless candidates, in flag-waving fashion, have signed it through the years even though it’s no longer compulsory.
It’s not clear why Trump chose not to sign the oath for the 2024 election cycle — a time when his nominating petitions are being challenged on grounds that he is allegedly disqualified to run by the 14th Amendment. That section of the Constitution bars insurrectionists from seeking public office.
Biden observed the Jan. 6th anniversary Friday with a blistering speech in which he characterized Trump as a mortal threat to democracy and described his conduct on Jan. 6th as “among the worst derelictions of duty by a president in American history.”
Trump was criminally charged last August by a federal grand jury for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The charges were connected to his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election by spreading lies about election fraud and sending a crowd of supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6th, 2021 with directions to “fight like hell.”
The ensuing overrunning of the Capitol, as presidential results were being certified, was linked to seven deaths, attacks on more than 140 police officers and criminal charges against 1,265 people, including for assaulting peace officers with deadly weapons, entering restricted areas with weapons and obstructing an official government proceeding.
More than 700 of those charged have pleaded guilty and entered into plea agreements, while nearly 140 more were found guilty at contested trials, Justice Department data show.
At least 42 Illinoisans are among those charged with Jan. 6th-related offenses, and several have been convicted, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.
A voting-rights organization called Free Speech for People, five Illinois voters, and two Chicago law firms are contesting Trump’s nominating petitions based on his conduct before and during the insurrection.
Challenges against Trump are pending in 15 other states, according to an organization tracking them, and his name has for now been struck from the ballot in two others — Colorado and Maine. The Supreme Court Friday chose to hear Trump’s appeal of the Colorado Supreme Court decision barring him from that state’s ballot. The case will be argued Feb. 8, the New York Times reported.
On Friday, a campaign spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, a frequent Biden surrogate, belittled Trump for his campaign’s decision not to sign the oath.
“Pledging not to overthrow our democracy is a hard thing to do when you’ve already attempted it once,” Pritzker spokeswoman Christina Amestoy told WBEZ.
Trump’s main 2024 rival, Biden, signed the Illinois loyalty pledge this year and ahead of his 2020 run. And one of his GOP opponents, DeSantis, did so this year as well.
State election records show that Trump’s other GOP primary opponents, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, did not sign the state loyalty oath. Christie signed the document during his 2016 run for president.
Some of Trump’s Republican political allies in Illinois did sign the oath.
State election records show U.S. Rep. Mary Miller and her husband, state Rep. Chris Miller, R-Hindsboro, both did for this election cycle.
Trump’s endorsement was pivotal in the congresswoman’s 2022 election win against Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis.
Chris Miller attended Trump’s Save America Rally on Jan. 6th but said he did not enter the Capitol or participate in violence. Nonetheless, the Illinois House passed a resolution in March 2021 denouncing Chris Miller for having “participated and publicly promoted his role in a rally that led to a violent insurrection of the Capitol.”
The Millers’ Trump-endorsed ally, former GOP gubernatorial nominee and current congressional candidate Darren Bailey, also signed the loyalty oath. Now running to unseat fellow Republican Congressman Mike Bost in the March primary, Bailey signed the document in both 2022 and 2024, state records show.
On Friday, the Trump campaign observed the Jan. 6th anniversary with a litany of denouncements of Biden, accusing him of “attacking American democracy” and noting that some Jan. 6th criminal defendants “were prosecuted, convicted, or pleaded guilty to ‘parading’ which is simply an expression of political dissent.”
Kinzinger, though, told WBEZ Trump’s actions — he signed the loyalty oath before the insurrection, and didn’t now — should be interpreted literally by voters.
“What was the world like when he signed it in 2016 and when he signed it in 2020? Well, at that point, there had not been an attempted insurrection on the federal government,” Kinzinger said.
“The difference between the last two times he did it, and this time when he didn’t, is he has a track record of trying to overthrow the government,” Kinzinger said.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois government and politics for WBEZ and was the long-time Springfield bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.