WASHINGTON ― Hardly any Republicans showed up Thursday to commemorate the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, one of the worst days for democracy in U.S. history.
The only ones present when the House of Representatives gaveled in for a brief session were Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. They stood alone on the Republican side of the chamber, opposite approximately two dozen Democratic lawmakers, in a stark illustration of where the Republican Party stands one year after the attack.
Republican leaders avoided the Capitol on Thursday. But Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) called a press conference where they insinuated that the FBI itself caused the riot.
“I do not believe that there would have been the same level of criminal acuity on January 6 of last year but for the involvement of the federal government,” Gaetz told HuffPost, citing video images of a man who he suggested was a federal agent or informant inciting the mob that day.
The riot actually happened after former President Donald Trump lied about the 2020 election for months, falsely claiming it had been stolen. On Jan. 6, 2021, he held a rally near the White House where he urged his followers to be fighters and told them to march on the Capitol, where Republican lawmakers sought to vote down the verification of Trump’s election loss.
Hundreds of Trump supporters fought police throughout the Capitol grounds. More than 225 have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding police officers, and more than 75 have been charged with using a dangerous weapon to injure an officer. Many of those who were charged cited Trump’s words as the reason they traveled to Washington, D.C., and stormed the Capitol building.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) essentially ceded the Republican conference’s messaging Thursday to Greene and Gaetz, almost certainly knowing they would spout unfounded conspiracy theories.
“I don’t know who’s more dangerous ― those like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who use an outrage machine to raise money and sow division, or the leadership, like Kevin McCarthy, who knows what happened here on the 6th was so dangerous to our democracy, and yet still will not speak out to defend our country,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) told HuffPost.
In the initial aftermath of the attack, McCarthy said Trump bore responsibility for what happened, but since then, he has downplayed the day’s events and suggested House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was somehow responsible for the security failure.
Things in the Senate were just as lopsided Thursday. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and a number of other Senate Republicans traveled to Georgia to attend funeral services for a former senator. Others simply stayed home. More than a dozen Democrats made speeches on the Senate floor in honor of the anniversary; no Republicans showed up.
“An extraordinary image of where this country’s politics are right now,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted in response to the absence of GOP lawmakers at the Capitol.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, tore into Republicans during a speech inside the Capitol’s statuary hall, castigating the party for endangering American democracy with lies about supposed election fraud.
“You can’t love your country only when you win,” Biden said. “You can’t obey the law only when it is convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.”
Afterward, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complained on Twitter that the speech represented a “brazen politicization of January 6 by President Biden.”
Trump also issued a statement that called the speech “very hurtful to many people” and doubled down on conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
The truth is, there’s no apolitical way to describe January 6. The ransacking of the Capitol was an entirely Republican affair, with rioters attacking police in Donald Trump’s name after virtually the entire rest of the party either joined Trump in lying about the election or went along with the lies without saying anything.
Liz Cheney, a leading member of the House committee probing the attack, said it was “very concerning” to see almost no Republicans in attendance at Thursday’s commemorative events.
“A party who is enthralled to a cult of personality is a party that is dangerous for the country,” she said. “And I think that we’ve clearly got to get to a place where we’re focused on substance and on issues in policy.”
Her father, a former vice president and former member of the House, expressed disappointment that members of his party weren’t willing to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law.
“It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years,” the elder Cheney told reporters.