Jan. 6 looms over Capitol and Congress ‘like a ghost’

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was on the Senate floor on Jan. 6, when a rioting mob invaded the U.S. Capitol in an effort to disrupt certification of the 2020 presidential election.

Less than an hour before people smashed windows and spilled inside the Capitol, Warner, a Democratic lawmaker, had been looking out at the protesters and reflecting on his duty to defend the Constitution.

It wasn’t long before he and other lawmakers were being rushed away from the Senate chamber to shelter in place as angry and violent demonstrators started to break past overwhelmed U.S. Capitol police officers outside.

“I still think about that one Capitol Police officer who led insurrectionists away from the Senate floor,” Warner said, referring to Officer Eugene Goodman.

“There could’ve been much more damage, much more violence,” Warner said. “You could’ve had members of the Senate killed if those folks who were out for blood had broken onto the Senate floor with the Senate still in session.”

Warner still finds it “chilling” that the Senate parliamentarian’s office, which is responsible for securing the electoral votes linked to the presidential election, was “totally trashed in a way that no other office was trashed (in) the Capitol.”

Warner said there are still lots of questions that need to be answered about people who were allowed to take tours of the Capitol in the days before Jan. 6, which require assistance from lawmakers.

Breakdown of trust among lawmakers

Democrats and Republicans both condemned the attack on the Capitol — many as it was happening — including Rep. Rob Wittman, a GOP lawmaker who represents Virginia’s 1st District.

But in the months that have followed, there’s been a growing divide between congressional members of the two parties.

Democrats question whether some of the insurrectionists may have received assistance or guidance from Republican House members, which GOP lawmakers have denied.

The House select committee investigating the attack recently announced it is seeking testimony from some Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who spoke with former President Trump on Jan. 6.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said there is no question that what happened on Jan. 6 still reverberates on Capitol Hill.

“What is even scarier right now is that this poison is still circulating in the political bloodstream,” Van Hollen said. “The poison that hit the Capitol on Jan. 6 is still very much alive in the body politic and we’ve got to address that as a country.”

He and other lawmakers say there is a greater lack of trust between lawmakers of the two parties.

“I’ll confess it is harder to work with some of our colleagues that continue to promote ‘the Big Lie,’ he said, referring to Republicans who continue to deny that President Joe Biden fairly won the election.

Van Hollen said those who promote false claims that former President Trump won the election are “especially dangerous to our democracy.”

Is the Capitol more secure?

Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he believes appropriate steps have been taken to improve security at the Capitol.

But he was upset in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, noting he had been repeatedly assured by the FBI that appropriate steps had been taken to deal with the gathering of Trump supporters.

He and other lawmakers are encouraged by changes in intelligence sharing as well as procedures involving the activation of the National Guard.

The D.C. National Guard waited for hours as rioters fought with police officers before they were finally called in to help secure the Capitol.

“We’ve made additional investments,” Warner said of increased funding for the Capitol Police, which includes money to hire more officers, pay for improved training and equipment.

“I think it’s very important that we included the ability for the Capitol Police to call in the National Guard if they need additional help, God forbid something like this happens again,” he said.

He said Capitol Police will continue to need improved access to intelligence related to potential threats and chatter on social media.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., agrees that important security improvements have been made.

But the Democratic lawmaker said threats remain, as long as congressional supporters of former President Trump continue to back his claim that he was cheated out of winning the election, even though there is no evidence of that.

The former president has suggested that the hundreds of people arrested have been unfairly prosecuted.

“There are members of the GOP sadly, including elected members of the Senate and House, who are trying to sugarcoat and rewrite what happened that day,” Kaine said.

What’s ahead for the Jan. 6 investigation?

The House select committee investigating the riot at the Capitol and what led to it plans to hold public hearings this year.

Up until now, much of the panel’s work has been behind closed doors. Hundreds of people have provided testimony, while some of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters have refused to testify or pleaded the Fifth Amendment.

The House recently voted largely along party lines to hold former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress, for failing to answer a subpoena.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democratic member of the select committee, said Meadows needs to answer questions related to texts he received before and during the insurrection.

Raskin of Maryland also said during a floor speech that Meadows’ lawsuit against the committee, which argues it has overstepped its power, is without merit.

Raskin said the Constitution gives Congress the power to suppress insurrections.

“And this we will do by investigating and reporting on the most dangerous political violence ever unleashed against the Capitol by a domestic enemy,” Raskin said.

Many Republicans argue that the select committee investigation is politically partisan, though the vice chair of the panel is Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.

The committee hopes to release an interim report later this year.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, said there is no getting around what happened nearly a year ago at the Capitol, even though some would like it to become a distant memory.

“We still live in Jan. 6,” she said.

“I think try as they might, it’s impossible to whitewash Jan. 6,” she said. “It looms over us like a ghost, particularly over the Capitol.”

Norton said for lawmakers to get past what happened in 2021, it will likely take years,

“We’re going to have to find ways,” she said, “and I think frankly it’ll take another election.”

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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