GOP attempts balancing act: Condemn Jan. 6, but not Trump

Republicans are attempting a difficult balancing act as the nation marks one year since the Capitol was attacked by violent supporters of former President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE, who is to this day the undisputed leader of the party.

As the solemn Jan. 6 anniversary arrives Thursday, Republicans seek to make clear they don't condone violence. Yet they are largely avoiding any direct reckoning of what motivated hundreds of rioters to tear down security barricades and storm the Capitol: Trump's ongoing falsehoods about the 2020 election.

In a letter to House Republicans exemplifying the GOP straddle, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyPress: Newt says lock 'em up – for doing their job!  The Hill's Morning Report - Biden, NATO eye 'all scenarios' with Russia On The Money — Support for new COVID-19 relief grows MORE (Calif.) reiterated that “the actions of that day were lawless and as wrong as wrong can be.”

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“Our Capitol should never be compromised and those who broke the law deserve to face legal repercussions and full accountability,” McCarthy wrote.

But he then went on to accuse Democrats of using the events of Jan. 6 “as a partisan political weapon to further divide our country” and argued they should be focusing on improving Capitol security.

“Unfortunately, one year later, the majority party seems no closer to answering the central question of how the Capitol was left so unprepared and what must be done to ensure it never happens again,” McCarthy wrote.

Unsaid was why one of the worst security breaches in the Capitol’s history, which left five people dead and scores of police officers injured, happened in the first place.

Trump, for his part, did Republicans a rare favor on the issue when he scrapped a planned Thursday news conference at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where he was expected to dig in on his false claims of election fraud. The former president canceled the event Tuesday, citing “the total bias and dishonesty of the January 6th Unselect Committee of Democrats, two failed Republicans, and the Fake News Media.” He announced that he would instead “discuss many of those important topics” at a rally in Arizona on Jan. 15.

The decision by Trump to scrap his sure-to-be-incendiary press conference means Republicans will no longer have to face a split-screen of solemn commemoration events at the Capitol and the most powerful figure in their party renewing the falsehoods that led his supporters to break into the seat of American democracy.

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When asked Wednesday if canceling the press conference was the right move, Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyBipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill ​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Sunday shows - Voting rights legislation dominates MORE (R-La.) said tersely that the former president’s advisers “apparently thought it was the right thing to do.”

Even before Trump’s Tuesday announcement, GOP lawmakers outside of his most ardent allies had expressed little enthusiasm for the event.

When asked hours before Trump changed his plans if the press conference would be helpful for the GOP, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThere is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections Juan Williams: It's Trump vs. McConnell for the GOP's future Biden's year two won't be about bipartisanship  MORE (S.D.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, sought to thread a needle of deferring to the former president without explicitly endorsing his plans.

“I mean, I don't know what he's going to say, but I think we all know that there isn't anything we can say or do to influence or shape what he's gonna say or do,” Thune said. “Hopefully his comments will be helpful, not harmful.”

But Thune, who, like other Senate GOP leaders, voted to certify President BidenJoe BidenDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors On The Money — Vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses nixed Warner tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case MORE’s electoral victory, didn’t deny the severity of what happened on Jan. 6.

“Out of respect for the Capitol Police and others, people who were harmed, and the loss of life that occurred here, as a result of that, I think we all need to respect and reflect on what happened here and again, take steps to make sure it never happens again,” he said.

Democrats are planning a series of events on Thursday to mark one year since the assault on the Capitol, including a prayer vigil, a panel with historians “to establish and preserve the narrative” of Jan. 6 and testimonials from lawmakers to reflect on their experiences escaping from the mob. Biden and Vice President Harris will also deliver remarks at the Capitol on Thursday morning.

Since the House is not scheduled to be in session on Thursday and many GOP senators are attending the late Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Schumer makes plea for voting bill, filibuster reform in rare Friday session Jan. 6 brings Democrats, Cheneys together — with GOP mostly absent MORE’s (R-Ga.) funeral that day, it’s increasingly likely that the commemorative events at the Capitol will be predominantly attended by Democrats.

But at least two of Trump’s most ardent allies, GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she's meeting with Trump 'soon' in Florida MORE (Ga.) and Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzOn The Money — Support for new COVID-19 relief grows House lawmakers urge Pelosi to bring stock trading ban to the floor Mask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House MORE (Fla.), will be on Capitol Hill on Thursday to hold what they described as “a Republican response” to the Jan. 6 anniversary, which they announced after Trump canceled his own event. 

If there’s one area of consensus between Democrats and Republicans about Jan. 6, it’s ensuring the Capitol Police isn’t caught flat-footed in an emergency again.

Lawmakers in both parties have sought investigations and held committee hearings over the past year into why the Capitol Police was vastly underprepared for the violent mob as Congress certified the Electoral College votes. And over the summer, lawmakers enacted a $2.1 billion spending bill to provide funding for the force and to fortify the Capitol complex.

Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger outlined this week how the department has enacted — or is in the process of completing — a series of recommendations from reviews by its inspector general and congressional committees since last January, including overhauling its intelligence operations, updating police equipment, improving coordination with other law enforcement agencies and distributing cell phones to all officers.

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But after months of far-right Republicans allied with Trump and right-wing media downplaying the severity of the attack on the Capitol, Republicans are decidedly more reluctant to dive into why the insurrection happened in the first place.

There are a few exceptions, most notably Reps. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden faces Ukraine decision amid Russia aggression Cheney hits Gingrich for saying Jan. 6 panel members may be jailed The Hill's Morning Report - US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe MORE (Wyo.) and Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerCheney hits Gingrich for saying Jan. 6 panel members may be jailed Jan. 6 committee subpoenas leaders of 'America First' movement Kinzinger welcomes baby boy MORE (Ill.), who were tapped by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse leaders unveil bill to boost chip industry, science competitiveness with China Pelosi says she will run for reelection in 2022 Hoyer says 'significant' version of Build Back Better will pass this year MORE (D-Calif.) to serve on the select committee investigating the events.

But the two have been ostracized for openly pushing back against Trump, with Cheney booted from House GOP leadership and Kinzinger ultimately opting not to run for reelection.

By contrast, just days ahead of Thursday’s anniversary, a group of far-right House Republicans allied with Trump sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons director condemning what they described as “the abhorrent persecution” of people held in pre-trial detention over crimes related to Jan. 6.

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But Republicans who neither want to cross Trump nor lionize the rioters would rather keep the focus on strengthening Capitol security.

Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisSwalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down House passes voting rights package, setting up Senate filibuster showdown GOP attempts balancing act: Condemn Jan. 6, but not Trump MORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, circulated a memo to GOP offices this week identifying remaining security deficiencies, including that the Capitol Police is still short more than 400 officers and how there is still remaining work to harden the Capitol’s physical infrastructure.

Davis accused Democrats of prioritizing what he called a “partisan witch-hunt” against Trump and his associates for their roles in the attack on the Capitol over scrutinizing the law enforcement response.

“Instead, their entire focus has been on settling political scores and creating a distraction that takes the institution further from answering the most important question: why was the Capitol so unprepared on January 6th?”

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats ask for information on specialized Border Patrol teams On The Money — Ban on stock trading for Congress gains steam MORE (D-Calif.), who’s also a member of the Jan. 6 panel, acknowledged that Capitol security could still stand to be bolstered further. But she emphasized that the Capitol Police’s preparation failures a year ago aren’t to blame for the attack itself.

“Institutional failures did not cause the violent attack on our Capitol and our democracy,” Lofgren said.