Democrats look back on Jan. 6 with emotion

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) walks back to her office from the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol
Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta

House Democrats gave emotional recountings on Thursday of their harrowing experiences exactly one year ago during the attack on the Capitol and reflected on the significance of the day for the future of American democracy.

Gathered in a cavernous room in the Cannon House Office Building, the group of Democratic lawmakers spoke in front of an audience that included the family of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the riot.  

Over more than two hours, lawmakers shared stories of escaping from the House chamber as the mob tried to break in and how they remained determined to finish certifying the election results hours after law enforcement cleared the rioters from the building.

“America does not yet know just how close we — the members here today and our democracy — came to our demise that terrifying day. One thousand acts of courage by the Capitol Police, the D.C. Metro Police, and House staff saved our lives and saved the future of our democracy,” Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) said.

Indeed, many lawmakers reflected on how they are only still alive because of the Capitol Police’s efforts protecting them that day.

Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) recalled how he was awaiting the birth of his second child on Jan. 6.

“Had those officers not held that line, I would not have met my son,” Allred said. “For me, Jan. 6, I don’t see it as a member of Congress so much. I see it as a father, as somebody who, because I didn’t know mine, has always been committed to making sure my boys knew me. To the Sicknick family: Your son’s sacrifice allowed me to meet mine.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — who became one of the most prominent Democrats during the Trump era for leading Democrats’ first impeachment trial in 2019 — said he didn’t realize at first how bad it was outside the building as rioters broke down security barricades. But then a Republican colleague — who he didn’t name — warned that Schiff would be in danger if the rioters saw him.

“I pray that this solemn anniversary be a reawakening of our devotion to our democracy,” Schiff said. “It’s time we defended our democracy like our lives, our liberties and our very happiness depended upon it. Because they do. Because they do.”

But the collective trauma on display a year after the deadly attack on the Capitol was far from a unifying event like other past tragic events in the nation’s history.

While dozens of Democrats wanted to participate in commemorative events at the Capitol on Thursday even though both the House and Senate were out of session, Republicans mostly made themselves scarce.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), accompanied by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was the only GOP lawmaker who attended a moment of silence at a House pro forma session on Thursday.

The only other Republican serving with Cheney on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), tweeted that he wished he could be at the Capitol too but is on “baby watch.”

The only event on Capitol Hill convened by Republicans on Thursday was a press conference featuring far-right Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.) promoting an unfounded conspiracy theory that FBI informants planted in the crowd on Jan. 6 lured Trump supporters into breaking into the Capitol. 

Relations between the two parties, which had already soured during the Trump era and the COVID-19 pandemic, have progressively worsened over the past year, with no shared reality of the Jan. 6 attack.

The anger among Democrats was on display on Thursday as many blended their personal stories from the day with criticism of their Republican colleagues.

Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a former police chief who is running for Senate, criticized the breakdown in security saying some “should have known” how far the rally attendees turned mob would go.

“I know the Capitol Police Officers took their oath seriously because I saw them fighting with every ounce of strength, courage, commitment and energy they could muster up,” Demings said.

“But you know what? As members of Congress, both in the upper chamber and and lower chamber, we have taken an oath too. But some have forgotten that oath. Some oaths are overshadowed by their quest for power and their pathetic fear of election officials counting every vote.”

Rep. Tom Malinowksi (D-N.J.) referenced his childhood in communist Poland when talking about his enthusiasm for certifying the 2020 election results when the day was interrupted. He also criticized those who have sought to diminish the day.

“Those who want us to move on from Jan. 6 have tried to get away with blaming the rioters alone for the attack,” he said.

“It’s like saying the hijackers alone were responsible for 9/11,” he said, adding that rioters were motivated by former President Trump’s lies about the election being stolen.

But Democrats made sure to praise Cheney, a sharp turnaround for the former House GOP conference chairwoman and daughter of a vice president once reviled on the left. 

“When you get out of the military and start serving your country in different ways, you realize that often what is called upon is for moral courage. You see acts of moral courage far more frequently. So I think it is appropriate to point out one person who has shown a great deal of moral courage, someone who stood up for the country at a great personal cost and that is Liz Cheney, a person who has truly done her duty to her country,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), a former Navy helicopter pilot.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), one of the House prosecutors during Trump’s impeachment trial after the Jan. 6 attack who served as emcee during his colleagues’ testimonials, said it was important for lawmakers to uphold the facts of what happened a year ago.

“It is said that truth dies when people stop speaking it. Well, it will not die on our watch,” Crow said.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Adam Schiff Ann Kuster Capitol riot Colin Allred Dick Cheney Donald Trump Jan. 6 anniversary Jason Crow Liz Cheney Marjorie Taylor Greene Matt Gaetz Mikie Sherrill Val Demings

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