Lawmakers reflect on one-year anniversary of Capitol riot

Lawmakers reflect on one-year anniversary of Capitol riot

One year after a wild mob rampaged through the Capitol, members of Congress say relations between Republicans and Democrats remain tense in the wake of the attack. 

Lawmakers widely condemned the deadly siege when pro-Trump rioters stormed the building in an attempt to derail the certification of the 2020 election. But members acknowledged the animosity that remains, noting that divisions are apparent, with many of the bipartisan friendships having dissolved following the events, at times made it harder to legislate. 

The divisions were evident on Thursday, with Democrats — many of which gathered at the Capitol for events commemorating the events that took place — blasting Republicans for not doing more to dispel the former president’s unfounded claims the election was stolen and accusing them of whitewashing the riot. Republicans in turn alleged Democrats were attempting to use the tragedy for political gain. 

Following President Biden’s speech at the Capitol, where he criticized Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the election without directly naming him, stating he “held a dagger at the throat of democracy,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) accused top Democrats of attempting to politicize the event to advance their legislative agenda. 

Rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.
Rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.
AP / John Minchillo

“Look, it was a day that nobody wanted to see happen. I was very quick to condemn those who broke into the Capitol. We were able to get back into the Capitol finally and finish our job later that day, which I thought was very important,” he said during an appearance on Fox News. 

“You know, but when you look at what’s going on today and just seeing the way Speaker Pelosi, President Biden, [Vice President] Harris are just trying to politicize this to push a different agenda. To do things like banning picture ID, for goodness sake. I mean, [this] has nothing to do with the other to try to compare it to the thousands who died on Pearl Harbor [and] on September 11th.”

Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), who was in the House chamber during the attack, said he believes the political climate between parties is worse now than the day of the breach. 

Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., cleans up debris and personal belongings strewn across the floor of the Rotunda the day after the January 6 Capitol riot.
Rep. Andy Kim cleans up debris and personal belongings strewn across the floor of the Rotunda the day after the January 6 riot.
AP / Andrew Harnik

“Things are a lot worse now than they were a year ago, and you know, I  feel it very palpably. Every day here. The toxicity of the atmosphere here has grown considerably worse over the last year,” he told reporters on Thursday.

 “And a lot of it can be just traced back to that night, not just what happened here, but I’ve been talking about how our experience on the House floor that night when I heard straight from their mouths the reality of what they felt, but then I also saw how they then just reverted back to the big lie, and went on with that as if nothing else has happened.”

The New Jersey Democrat added he believes it will be difficult to overcome the divide, noting it exists outside the halls of Congress. 

Problem Solvers Caucus co-chair Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., speaks to the media about the expected passage of the emergency COVID-19 relief bill.
Rep. Tom Reed called for both sides of the aisle to come together and “start respecting each other again.”
AP / Jacquelyn Martin

“I think that that’s something I’ve really come to terms with over the last year that there’s no single piece of legislation I can write that’s going to fix this problem,” he said.  “We have an addiction to anger as a country right now and I don’t know what we can do to bring that temperature down.” 

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) — a founding member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which aims to bring parties together to find bipartisan ground on legislation in the House — echoed concerns over the polarization that lingers. 

“I remember having tears in my eyes in my office as I watched the events unfold, so it was a dark day in  America’s history. I will tell you where it’s at today —  it’s sad to report that the House is, and Congress itself is more divided than ever. We are polarized like the nation and I’m doing my part wherever I can to try to bring people together, respect people and get people to listen to each other,” he told The Post in an interview. “Because the future of America is so problematic with the clouds on the horizon, if we go into this divided as a nation  I don’t know if we survive.” 

“I hope people start to realize that it’s going to take leadership on both sides stepping forward saying enough is enough and it’s time for us to start respecting each other again,” he added. 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaks with reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise called out President Biden, House Speaker Pelosi, and Vice President Harris for trying to politicize the ceremony remembering the January 6 riot.
AP / Alex Brandon

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) also expressed calls for parties to come together, releasing a statement asserting lawmakers “must continue to work together to protect our electoral system, the integrity and security of our elections, and the will of the American people.” 

Several moderate GOP lawmakers voiced frustrations with a handful of far-right Trump allies including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who held a press conference on Thursday where they floated a conspiracy theory that FBI informants were responsible for the violent attack, arguing leadership has given too much credence to their rhetoric surrounding Jan. 6, which they feel is counterproductive in bringing the country back together. 

“They seem to be pandering to a vocal minority, that extreme voice rather than hearing it, but not giving it any credibility,” one member said. “By listening to it, and pandering to it, it’s actually getting more credibility than it deserves.

U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) talks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer called for parties to come together to “protect our electoral system.”
REUTERS / Elizabeth Frantz

Top Republicans have said they are looking to move past the attack, arguing the party needs to “move forward,” with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) encouraging his members on a conference call earlier in the week to continue to criticize the Biden administration’s policies and place their focus on security concerns that remain at the Capitol in terms of messaging strategy surrounding Jan. 6. 

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — who was ousted from her leadership position over her criticisms of Trump and his role in inciting the riot last year — argued for the country to move on, they need to fully understand the gravity of the attack. 

“I think the future of our country is at stake,” she told reporters while exiting the House chamber with her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday. “And there are moments when we all have to come together in order to defend the constitution.” 

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