Emotions ran high on Capitol Hill as Democrats commemorated the one-year anniversary of when supporters of former president Donald Trump raided the seat of Congress, but Republicans were mostly missing in action.
The solemn day began with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris addressing the nation from Statuary Hall, the same hall where, as the president noted, Abraham Lincoln served in Congress but was also flanked by a statue of Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, the last time white supremacists took up arms against democracy.
Mr Biden delivered a forceful denunciation of his predecessor without mentioning Mr Trump by name.
“And here is the truth: The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Mr Biden said. “He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country’s interests and America’s interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.”
Mr Biden tore into Republicans across the nation, explaining how they were trying to put the former president’s lies about the election into action.
“Instead of looking at the election results from 2020 and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes, the former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections,” he said.
Rep Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat who represents Mr Biden’s home state of Delaware and was in the gallery on the day of the riot, praised the president.
“I thought that he was clear,” she told The Independent, noting how he “debunked the myths and the lies”.
Throughout the day, there were multiple tributes – from a moment of silence on the House floor, to multiple speeches by Democratic senators, to a ceremony where members shared their memories that also featured the cast of Hamilton performing a song to a candlelight vigil. The Hamilton cameo was welcomed less-than-enthusiastically by political journalists covering the day’s events.
Democratic senators gave speeches on the floor commemorating the horrors of the riot a year earlier. But most Republicans were absent throughout the day. Republican senators were in Georgia to commemorate the late Sen Johnny Isakson, who died late last year.
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“I hope that those who get back will have an opportunity to file statements in the congressional record of their views of January 6 and how violent assaults on democracy are intolerable,” Rep Jamie Raskin of Maryland, whose daughter and son-in-law were on the Capitol on the day of the insurrection, told The Independent after speaking a rally with other members. “And for those who didn’t want to show up, then I think that’s shameful and scandalous.”
On the House side, Rep Liz Cheney was the sole currently serving Republican on the House floor who commemorated the attack alongside her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, who held the same Wyoming at-large congressional seat that his daughter now occupies. The former vice president told reporters that current Republican leadership is “not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years”.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was honoured to welcome the former vice president with whom she served in the House and later frequently clashed when Mr Cheney was vice president to George W Bush.
“He has a right to be on the floor as a former member of the House,” Ms Pelosi told reporters and said she congratulated him on the courage of his daughter, one of only a handful of Republicans who voted to impeach the former president. When asked why no other Republicans came, Ms Pelosi said, “you’ll have to ask them.”
The few other Republicans in Congress who spoke on the occasion were either defiant in their language, as was the case with Reps Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast, or focused their ire on Mr Biden. Reps Greene and Gaetz argued in a press conference that the Capitol riot amounted to a “distraction” from the larger task at hand – overturning the last presidential election.
Sen Lindsey Graham, a former friend of the current president, called Mr Biden’s speech a “brazen politicization of January 6” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that Democrats wanted to “exploit this anniversary to advance partisan policy goals that long predated this event.”
For her part, Ms Cheney said it was unfortunate that no other Republicans took part in the ceremonies.
“I think it’s a reflection of where our party is,” Ms Cheney said, adding that it was “very concerning.”
“I think that the future of the country is at stake and there are moments where we all have to come together in order to defend the Constitution,” she added.
Ms Cheney has remained a vocal critic of the former president, which led to her being ousted as House Republican Conference chairwoman. She now serves as vice chairwoman of the House select committee investigating the insurrection. At a rally, Mr Raskin, who also sits on the committee, praised Republicans like her and Mr Kinzinger.
When the former vice president was asked what he thought about the way his daughter has been treated by the GOP caucus he once led as House Minority Whip, he said simply “my daughter can take care of herself”.