The anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol brought no sense of healing to a country that remains deeply divided over the deadly riot, with the nation’s leaders failing to demonstrate a shared commitment to American democracy.
Although Democrats marked the day with commemorations, a moment of silence and a prayer vigil, almost no Republicans participated — a reminder of how few are willing to confront former President Trump’s lies about the last election. Trump made a series defiant statements and urged his supporters to not give up on their fight to restore him to power.
President Biden, meanwhile, appealed to Americans to reject political violence in a speech inside the Capitol, telling them that “you can’t love your country only when you win.”
The president seems to have reluctantly accepted that the wounds of Jan. 6 will not heal on their own, signaling that he will play a more active role in confronting the falsehoods that have eroded faith in the elections that provide the foundation of American government.
” I did not seek the fight brought to this Capitol one-year ago today, but it is something that I will not shy away from.” He said in Statuary Hall where rioters gathered among statues from the country’s history one year ago. “I will stand in the breach. I will defend this country. And I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of our democracy.”
It was a fiercer speech than Biden had previously delivered on the subject, and one that directly addressed Trump’s central role in inciting the attack and the election falsehoods that fueled it.
“He prefers power to principle,” Biden stated. Biden stated that he values his own interests more than the national interest of his country, and America’s. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke before Biden, said that “certain dates echo throughout history,” placing Jan. 6 in the same tragic lineage as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II.
She described the rioters as “extremists” who assaulted “the institutions, the values, the ideals that generations of Americans have marched, picketed and shed blood to establish and defend.”
But finding common cause — particularly across partisan lines — could prove difficult, if not impossible.
The majority of Republican voters believe Trump’s lies about the last election being rigged or marred with voter fraud, according public polling. Right-wing commentators regularly downplay the severity of Jan. 6’s violence, in which rioters engaged with police in hand-to–hand combat. Five people involved died, including a Capitol Police officer, and more than 140 officers were injured; four other officers died by suicide after the siege. On Thursday, the House of Representatives observed a moment of silence. The only Republicans present were Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, and her father, former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Her father was a longtime congressman.
The building was quieter than normal because Congress did not have any votes scheduled and many lawmakers weren’t expected to be there.
Some Democrats chose to attend, stating that it was important to commemorate the occasion on Capitol Hill, especially after the GOP’s efforts to downplay violence in the past year.
“When i walked into the Capitol one-year ago today, I didn’t imagine that I would be kneeling with colleagues, staffers, and cameramen. We all hoped we got out safely,” Rep. Robin Kelly, Illinois, said in one of several testimonials from House Democrats. She recalled thinking, “Is this the end for me?”
Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), who, like Kelly, was among 30 or so lawmakers trapped in the gallery above the House floor on Jan. 6, encouraged Americans to turn their anger over the events of that day into action.
“We could have lost our democracy in 2021, but we have the opportunity in 2022 to save it. He said, “Let’s make this a year for democracy in action: volunteer and advocate and engage.” “Now is the time for all good men and women across our nation to come to the aid of their country.”
Democrats invited three historians, including the librarian of Congress, to hold a discussion about the attack as a way to solidify the record of the day’s events at a time when they have been subjected to political bickering.
“We have to retell the story of what happened on Jan. 6 with all of the gaps filled in,” said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, adding that people must be “persuaded that this cannot happen again,” but that they must also confront “what’s going on in the country that made this possible to happen.”
At the end of the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) held a prayer vigil on the steps of the Capitol.
Many Republicans weren’t there. Many Republicans were absent from the funeral of Sen. Johnny Isakson (Republican Senate Minority Leader, Kentucky)
In a statement, McConnell did not mention Trump, even though last year he said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” He called Jan. 6, 2021, “a dark day for Congress and the country” and admonished the “criminals who brutalized police officers and used force to try to stop Congress from doing its job.”
The minority leader also castigated Democrats, who have argued that Trump’s attempt to overturn the election bolsters the need to protect voting rights by carving out an exception to the filibuster, a maneuver that generally requires 60 votes to pass legislation in the Senate. The Senate is evenly divided between both the Democrats and Republicans, so there are no chances for Democrats to pass some of their key legislation without changing the rule.
“It’s especially jaw-dropping when some Senate Democrats use the mob’s attempt disrupting our country’s norms and rules and institutions to justify discarding our norms and rules and institutions ourselves,” McConnell stated.
The only Republican-led event on Capitol Hill was hosted by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida, two of Trump’s most outspoken allies. They shared baseless theories about the conspiracy that the attack on Capitol Hill was orchestrated by federal authorities. This conspiracy theory has been airing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R.-Bakersfield), initially criticized Trump following the Jan. 6 attack, but quickly accepted his leadership role within the party. He stated in a Facebook post: “Those who broke the law during the riot should face accountability.” But he blamed Democrats for not “answering the central question of how the Capitol was left so unprepared,” and he accused them of using the anniversary “as a partisan political weapon to further divide our country.”
Trump had planned to hold a news conference at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, but canceled it earlier this week. He falsely described the last presidential election as “the Crime of the Century” and promised to “discuss many of those important topics” at his next rally, scheduled for Jan. 15 in Arizona.
Shortly after Biden finished speaking, Trump issued a statement repeating his lies about the election having been stolen from him.
“This is just political theater, he stated.
Times staff writers Erin B. Logan and Anumita Kaur contributed to this report.