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‘Still raw’: Democrats mark January 6 as Republicans feud over House speaker

Friday’s anniversary was a study in contrasts

Serena Liebengood, wife of the late Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, embraces Maxine Waters on Friday during a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.
Serena Liebengood, wife of the late Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, embraces Maxine Waters on Friday during a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Grace Norris was among the rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but said she didn’t act violently or breach police lines. She still sees that day as a righteous bid for freedom.

Norris, a resident of Michigan who has been active in local Republican politics, was back on the Capitol grounds Friday on the second anniversary of the attack. She stood in a small clump of roughly 100 other people who waved American flags and carried signs reading “Justice for Trump” and “Trump Won.”

“If we lose our freedom, we’re all losers,” Norris said, before giving voice to conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election.

A few hundred yards away, across the Capitol’s East Lawn and several layers of police barriers, the scene was more subdued. A group of House Democrats descended the steps around 10 a.m. for a ceremony honoring the Capitol and Metropolitan Police officers who died in the aftermath of the attack.

“We stand here today with our democracy intact because of those officers,” said incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

The yells from the pro-Trump crowd, amplified by megaphones, could faintly be heard in the background, but Jeffries did nothing to acknowledge them. Most of his caucus stood behind him as he spoke — better attendance than expected, given that the House is rarely in session on Fridays. This one was different, as the newly convened Congress entered another freewheeling day without a speaker, after repeated attempts to elect one.

Lawmakers were stuck in Washington, and the morning was entirely divided by party — while Republicans joined a conference call to continue their intraparty speaker feud, Democrats showed up for the Jan. 6 remembrance.

“We cannot escape history,” said outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, quoting Abraham Lincoln.

“For many in the Congress and across our country, the physical, psychological and emotional scars are still raw,” she added.

At the end of the ceremony, families of fallen police officers read their names as a bell rang out. About 140 officers were injured in the attack, and six died in the days and months afterward.

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick suffered fatal strokes and died a day after the riot. Sicknick’s estate on Thursday named Trump as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit alleging the former president’s “incendiary” rhetoric and false claims led to his death. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington ruled the manner of death “natural,” although the Capitol Police said in a subsequent statement that Sicknick “died in the line of duty, courageously defending Congress and the Capitol.”

Capitol Police Officer Howard Charles Liebengood died by suicide after the attack, as did Metropolitan Police Officers Jeffrey Smith, Kyle DeFreytag and Gunther Hashida. And William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year Capitol Police veteran, was killed in a separate attack in April 2021 when a man rammed his car through a barrier.

Democrats had promised the ceremony would be “short and solemn,” and they delivered on both. After less than 20 minutes, the crowd of lawmakers dispersed and returned inside the Capitol, where a 12th ballot for speaker would soon begin.

Until the speaker race is resolved, the House is essentially at a standstill, unable to pass legislation or organize committees.

Some Democrats sought to draw a direct line between the two historic events. “Two years ago, a violent mob — fueled by hate and a tyrannical president — stormed the Capitol,” incoming Minority Whip Katherine Clark said in a statement. “Tragically, the same extremist forces continue to have a stranglehold on House Republicans. They cannot elect a leader because their conference is held hostage.”

While the speaker race ate up most of the energy on Capitol Hill on Friday, a few other events sought to keep attention on the anniversary. Earlier that morning, a couple of House Democrats held a press conference to tout the Electoral Count Reform Act that passed late last year. The law aims to avoid another Jan. 6 by clarifying that the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes is purely ceremonial and by raising the threshold for members of Congress to object to a state’s electors.

Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey called that law one of the “only substantive changes that happened in legislation after the attack on our Capitol two years ago” and made a plea for cooperation across the aisle.

“Over these years, we’ve been reminded just how important it is to come together across party backgrounds and any lines that divide us, especially in the face of lawless thugs who seek to undermine our democracy,” he said.