The one-year anniversary of the first attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries passed in silence Thursday as differences between congressional Democrats and Republicans about the deadly riot were on stark display.
Over the past year, the events of January 6 have furthered the divide between Democrats who see the day as an attempted coup and Republicans who have largely chosen not to discuss what happened beyond addressing security failures at the Capitol.
In an event from which Republicans were markedly absent, Democrats convened in the chamber of the U.S. House for a somber moment of remembrance honoring the five people who died after supporters of former President Donald Trump overwhelmed law enforcement and swarmed inside one of the world’s most secure buildings in their attempt to prevent the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
There were few public remarks from Republican lawmakers, many of whom still struggle with how they remember the legacy of that day. Many have argued that the rioters believed they were allowed inside the building to exercise their right to protest, and that the events of the day were primarily peaceful, denying graphic footage of rioters beating police and desecrating the Capitol.
In a statement Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged the gravity of January 6, calling it “a dark day for Congress and our country. The United States Capitol, the seat of the first branch of our federal government, was stormed by criminals who brutalized police officers and used force to try to stop Congress from doing its job.”
He did not address the role Trump may have played in the riot, and he criticized Democrats for trying “to exploit this anniversary to advance partisan policy goals that long predated this event.”
After the moment of silence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “When the violent assault was made on the Capitol, its purpose was to thwart Congress’ constitutional duty to validate the electoral count and to ensure the peaceful transfer of power. But the assault did not deter us from our duty.”
Pelosi, the third-highest official in the U.S. government, held several commemorative events Thursday along with other congressional Democrats. During the riot, she was rushed to an undisclosed secure location as members of her staff barricaded themselves in offices to hide from rioters. Members of both chambers eventually returned early the next morning to certify the election results.
McConnell was one of many Republicans to condemn Trump’s actions in the immediate aftermath of the riot. But rhetoric from the former president’s own party shifted as he faced an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate in February. Ultimately, most of the senators who condemned Trump’s actions on January 6 voted to acquit him of the charge of inciting an insurrection.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the former president, voted to acquit. In a statement Thursday, he said, “Those who defiled the Capitol on January 6 are being prosecuted, as they should be. I have consistently condemned the attack and have urged that those involved be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I hold the same views of those who attacked the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, and committed other acts of violence throughout our nation.”
He also did not address Trump’s role in the events of that day.
Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump on charges of inciting the insurrection, including Representative Liz Cheney, vice chair of the House select committee currently investigating the Capitol attack. She tweeted Thursday, “Even in the aftermath of January 6th, the former President continues to make the same false claims that he knows caused violence. The Republican Party must reject his lies.”
Republicans stripped Cheney of her committee assignments for criticizing Trump’s actions in the aftermath of the riot, and her views are not largely accepted by most members of her party. Representatives Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene called for the rioters’ release as so-called political prisoners. Gaetz said Thursday on the Steve Bannon podcast, “We’re ashamed of nothing. We’re proud of the work we did on January 6 to make legitimate arguments about election integrity.”
For Democrats, January 6 remains a day of trauma that now marks their workplace and has altered their relationships with many of their Republican colleagues.
“For me personally, the path forward after January 6 has not been easy. It’s been made more painful, however, by the fact that most of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to accommodate that big lie. That was the predicate for the attack on our country,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee said Thursday at a forum for lawmakers to share their memories of the day of the riot.
He continued, “I know we can stop this ongoing effort to bend our democracy. Truly, truly protect our democracy. We need truth.”