(The Hill) – President Biden and Democratic lawmakers gathered Thursday in Washington to observe the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a somber occasion that was essentially boycotted by Republicans, who are wary of any actions that might upset former President Trump.
Biden used the stage to deliver a fiery and remarkably personal speech in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall in which he accused Trump in no uncertain terms of orchestrating the insurrection.
“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost the election, he tried to prevent a peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said in what was perhaps his most critical address toward his predecessor so far in his presidency. “We must make sure that never happens again.”
The lopsided partisan nature of the commemoration ceremonies marked a stark contrast to the bipartisan solidarity that followed the last major assault on the nation’s base institutions: the attacks of 9/11.
And it highlighted the degree to which Republicans — from the top ranks of leadership to the bottom rungs of the rank-and-file — are eager to move beyond the insurrection of Jan. 6, when a violent pro-Trump mob, ginned up by the former president, stormed the Capitol in an unsuccessful effort to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory.
The signs of that messaging strategy were everywhere on Thursday.
A typically defiant Trump canceled a news conference about Jan. 6 after pressure from GOP allies, who feared what he might say. Most GOP senators, joined by some Democrats, flew down to Atlanta on Thursday to attend the funeral services for one of their own, beloved former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who died on Dec. 19.
And only three of the 212 House Republicans were spotted in the Capitol. Two of them were Trump loyalists, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who used the occasion to hold a press conference suggesting, without evidence, that the attack was a “Fed-surrection,” a false-flag operation orchestrated by the FBI and other federal agencies.
The third was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has emerged over the past year as the face of the Republican resistance to Trump and the leading GOP critic of his role in the attack. Cheney, who had voted to impeach Trump for inciting the siege and is now one of two Republicans on the select committee investigating the attack, was joined on the House floor by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who made clear where his loyalties lie.
“She’s doing a hell of a job,” he said. “I’m here to support it.”
When he served as vice president under George W. Bush, the elder Cheney was a toxic figure in the eyes of Democrats, reviled for his no-holds-barred brand of conservatism and accused of leading the country, under false premises, into a disastrous conflict in Iraq.
But that was then.
On Thursday, Democrats rallied around their former nemesis, making clear that whatever animosities they harbored in the past would be discarded while the sides share a common foe in Trump.
“We were very honored by his being here,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had once accused Cheney of being “proud” to champion torture in the War on Terror. “He has a right to be on the floor, as a former member of the House. And I was happy to welcome him back, and to congratulate him on the courage of Liz Cheney.”
The two Cheneys were the only two Republicans in the House chamber on Thursday, when Pelosi and dozens of Democrats returned to the Capitol mid-recess to remember the heroics — and the threat to democracy — surrounding the deadly Capitol siege of one year ago.
The odd alliance — Democrats and Cheneys banding together — highlights the drastic ideological shift undergone in recent years by a Republican Party in which Trump remains the unrivaled kingmaker, and most GOP lawmakers — from leadership on down — are treading cautiously to remain in his good graces for the sake of their own political survival.
Central to that effort has been the widespread Republican embrace of Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was “stolen” by a broad conspiracy of corrupt state lawmakers, tech companies, foreign adversaries and election officials of both parties who certified the election results as valid — a claim for which no evidence has surfaced.
Leaving the House floor on Thursday, Dick Cheney bashed the current GOP leaders for their fealty to the former president.
“It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years,” he said, referring to the decade he served in the House representing Wyoming.
Walking by his side, Liz Cheney was even harsher in her takedown of those Republicans still advancing Trump’s lie that Biden’s victory was fraudulent — the false narrative that had sparked the attack of Jan. 6, to begin with.
“A party who is enthralled to a cult of personality is a party that is dangerous to the country,” the younger Cheney said. “And I think that we’ve really got to get to a place where we’re focused on substance and on issues.”
The Cheneys held court in the well of the House, where Dick Cheney once served in key GOP leadership posts in the late 1980s. Democrats, including Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Anthony Brown (D-Md.), lined up to greet and thank the Cheneys.
“I told him I was proud of his daughter,” McGovern said of Liz Cheney. “We disagree on almost everything but I admire her integrity and her commitment to protecting this democracy. She’s a true statesperson. I mean, she’s somebody who put it all on the line to do what’s right for the country. History will remember her like they remember Margaret Chase Smith.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered similar praise.
“We appreciate the fact that he’s here, supporting his daughter in what is otherwise a very significant minority position in the Republican Party, which is very sad,” Hoyer said.
Democrats, led by Pelosi, filled the entire day with events to commemorate the attack — and to shame Trump and his GOP loyalists in Congress for stoking the violence and failing to take responsibility for their role in it.
Biden and Vice President Harris kicked things off in the same Statuary Hall, where a year ago hundreds of rioters had paraded through before an armed standoff in the House chamber.
Around noon in the Capitol basement, Democratic lawmakers — including Reps. Jason Crow (Colo.), Val Demings (Fla.), Tom Malinowski (N.J.) and Dean Phillips (Minn.) — served Capitol Police officers, Hill staffers and other workers chicken tacos, shawarma and falafel provided by celebrity chef Jose Andres’s nonprofit World Central Kitchen.
And House Democrats put together an hours-long program that included personal testimonials from lawmakers who survived the attack; a discussion by historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin about Jan. 6’s place in the nation’s messy history; and a musical number introduced by Lin Manuel Miranda and performed virtually by the cast of “Hamilton.”
“I reflect on that day, being trapped in the [House] gallery, ultimately praying for all of our safety and peace in our nation,” Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), who is close to Biden, told her colleagues. “I also reflect on just how close we came to losing it, to losing our democracy.”
“Those of us trapped in the gallery, we lived it. Ducking, crawling, under, over railings, hands knees, the sounds, the smells,” she continued. “We had a front-row seat to what lies, hate or plain-old misinformation conjures. We went from victims to witnesses, and today we are messengers.”
Cristina Marcos contributed.