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‘A clear and present danger.’ Pa., N.J. Democrats say threats remain a year after the Jan. 6 insurrection

The insurrection, which centered in large part on Pennsylvania and its 2020 votes, prompted Democratic remembrances and calls for voting rights reforms.

President Joe Biden speaks from Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden speaks from Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.Read moreAndrew Harnik / AP

WASHINGTON — As they marked the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, fueled in large part by lies about the last presidential election in Pennsylvania, local Democrats warned Thursday that the threats to democracy seen so vividly that day remain as strong as ever.

“We’re at a point now where the Big Lie is perpetuating itself,” Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said on the Senate floor.

U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D., N.J.), who was in the House chamber the day of the insurrection, said in a speech, “On Jan. 6, 2021, we thwarted the attack on the Capitol. On Jan. 6, 2022, the attack on our democracy continues.”

They joined other Democrats who used the solemn day of remembrance to warn that the ongoing belief in former President Donald Trump’s false election claims shows that Jan. 6 was not a turning point, but a signal for more action.

They pointed to many Republicans’ continued embrace of Trump and his denial about the 2020 results, and warned that future elections may be in even more danger in the wake of new laws in some states that could make it easier for politicians to subvert election results. They blasted some conservatives’ attempts to downplay or dismiss the Capitol assault.

Speaking at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.) criticized GOP colleagues who “sit silently or make cowardly statements about not being sure about the election result.”

”They are just as guilty,” Scanlon said.

It was a day mixed with reminders of fear and the heroics of Capitol police, lingering anger, shreds of optimism and calls for voting rights reforms. It arrived, however, as the public remains sharply divided over the results of the 2020 election and the significance of the riot.

While some Democrats compared it to the Sept. 11 attacks, Republicans accused them of exaggerating for political gain. They noted that a number of Democrats used the day as the basis for fund-raising solicitations.

Most Republicans were silent about the anniversary, but Trump issued a string of statements reiterating the original lie, that the 2020 election was stolen.

“Never forget the crime of the 2020 Presidential Election. Never give up!” Trump wrote in one, echoing some of the very messages he delivered the day of the assault. He has continued attacking Pennsylvania’s vote specifically.


» READ MORE: We asked GOP Senate candidates if they would have backed Pa.’s 2020 election results. They wouldn’t say.

Many local Democrats used the anniversary to call for an end to the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation, so that Democrats can pass federal laws that would make voting easier.

“In states right now, laws are being passed, specifically designed to disenfranchise people,” Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said on the Senate floor, recounting how a year ago a Confederate flag was paraded through the Capitol.

Other Democrats also pointed to the number of Republican candidates in Pennsylvania who have backed Trump’s false claims about the state’s vote, or refused to comment on them.

“There is a clear and present danger to our democratic institutions, and it is taking root right here in Pennsylvania,” U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.) wrote in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

She warned that without action, Pennsylvania “could hold the dubious and horrifying distinction of being both the birthplace and the graveyard of our cherished Republic.”

» READ MORE: Fact-checking Trump’s false claims about Pennsylvania’s election before his supporters attacked the Capitol

The state was at the center of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Along with Arizona it was targeted by congressional Republicans as the GOP, following Trump’s lead, tried to discard the votes of every Pennsylvanian. Eight of Pennsylvania’s nine Republican House members voted in support of the effort targeting their own voters.

They were: Reps. John Joyce, Mike Kelly, Fred Keller, Dan Meuser, Scott Perry, Guy Reschenthaler, Lloyd Smucker and Glenn “GT” Thompson. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County was the one House Republican from Pennsylvania who opposed the move.

Several of the state’s House members were in the chamber to watch the debate as the rioters closed in, security officers slammed doors shut, escape hoods were ripped open and awkwardly donned and windows were smashed. Capitol Police used furniture to blockade the ornate doors and pointed handguns outward.

“And then the pounding on the doors, that haunting sound I will never forget,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.), one of many Democrats who recounted what it was like to be in the House chamber that day.

Rep. Susan Wild (D., Pa.), captured in an iconic photo clutching her chest while hiding on the floor, said Thursday she learned later she had had a panic attack. But she said she was “exhilarated” this week while returning to Washington.

“It actually to me is very affirming of the fact that all of us who were involved on Jan. 6 have stayed the course and recommitted ourselves to defending our democracy,” Wild said in a video event hosted by Jewish Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D., N.J.), recounted how the formal Republican objections to Pennsylvania’s votes came after the riot, as debris and blood marked the seat of American democracy.

“I watched people pull out the same speech about election fraud they were going to give before, as if the riot never happened. The prospect of unity lasted only 35min and 53 seconds,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday.

He added, “It’s not too late to unite this country. I was wrong to think unity needed a shock to the system to catalyze. We don’t need a shock. We need service.”

Casey saluted the police who protected the Capitol, noting the roughly 150 who suffered injuries and those who endured racial slurs from some rioters on a day of “horror, terror and desecration.”

“These officers were bruised and beaten. They were attacked with poles and bricks and bats,” he said on the Senate floor.

» READ MORE: What they saw: Images of the Capitol riot from Inquirer photographers

A year after the insurrection, there’s no evidence of fraud even close to being significant enough to change the election outcome — much less provide Trump the “landslide” he often claims. Dozens of judges across multiple states, including Pennsylvania, dismissed Trump’s lawsuits, sometimes in scathing terms. In Pennsylvania, where Trump lost by 80,000 votes, his suits didn’t allege a single specific instance of illegal voting and there have been fewer than 10 known prosecutions for fraud.

Election reviews and recounts, including several led by Republicans and Trump sympathizers, have found no evidence of widespread fraud in swing states. Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, said there was no evidence of wrongdoing that could have changed the outcome and an extensive Associated Press review found just 26 “suspicious” votes in Pennsylvania, out of more than 6.8 million.

» READ MORE: Far too little vote fraud to tip election to Trump, AP finds

While few Republicans spoke about the riot Thursday, some accused Democrats of politicizing the day to deflect from President Joe Biden’s struggles. They argue that Democrats are using the insurrection to ram through long-sought voting laws that should be up to individual states.

“The Biden Presidency, one year after January 6, is in free fall not because of the attack on our Capitol, but because of failed policies and weak leadership,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a close Trump ally.

» READ MORE: Tear gas, smashed glass, and shots fired as the U.S. Capitol is attacked by ‘a group of lawless thugs’

Despite the riot, the lies that fueled the attack remain a powerful force in Republican politics.

Republicans running for office in Pennsylvania have generally either backed Trump’s claims, or declined to speak about them as polls show a majority of GOP voters believe Biden won through fraud.

» READ MORE: We asked GOP Senate candidates if they would have backed Pa.’s 2020 election results. They wouldn’t say.

In the Philadelphia area, remembrances began with a morning service at Valley Forge National Historical Park, hosted by Democratic state Sen. Art Haywood, who represents parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia.

“We must continue to be vigilant,” Haywood said, framed by the Memorial Arch. “There are still those in our nation that are not convinced that our elections work, not convinced that the current president won, not convinced that we still need a democracy.