Politico Nightly: How 1/6 changed Congress

POLITICO, RENUKA RAYASAM

In the year since the Jan. 6 insurrection, the far-right ecosystem has seen a massive expansion. More than 150 people have pleaded guilty to storming the Capitol. Scores of protesters from that day are now running for office. Congressional staffers worry about their personal safety. The Cheney family has become a hero to Democrats.

Nightly spoke with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a former CIA officer, during the Capitol riot last year, when she called us from a secure location she was sharing with Reps. Liz Cheney and Hakeem Jeffries. We spoke to her again today about how the events of the day changed her and her work in the Capitol. This conversation has been edited.

How did Jan. 6, 2021 change you?

Concurrent with the actual experience of what it was like to be in the House chamber, to be trapped in the gallery on Jan. 6, is the willingness of some of my colleagues to deny reality. That has been the most astounding part of the aftermath. It’s affirmed to me the fragility of our democracy in a way that I never recognized before.

How did the events of that day change the work atmosphere in Congress?

The remnants of that day continue to be there. We continue to have metal detectors surrounding the floor, which negatively impacts our daily experience when we’re at the office or when we’re voting. There’s a cloud of sadness around what used to be a boisterous place.

There are some people who defend Jan. 6, who deny it. And there are members of Congress who blame the FBI, who blame law enforcement, and that really feels like the world is on its head.

Has it affected how you work with Republicans?

It depends on the person. There are people who are elected members of Congress, who are reenacting the march from the ellipse to the Capitol today. There are others who are too afraid or too unwilling to use their voices and the leadership roles that they have to speak out. And they know better, and that makes me deeply sad. Americans need leadership on both sides of the aisle. We can’t just rely on Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and former electeds to be the only ones showing that leadership.

Some pundits say that protecting democracy should be their only and primary focus in the 2022 midterms. Do you agree?

That should have been the focus in January 2021. It’s the point that everybody should have been making a year ago. Democrats prioritized large, expansive packages, which I believe in, I co-sponsored and I voted for. But at the time I was vocal within my caucus that we should have pursued the John Lewis Voting Rights Act first and foremost. My response to that is, I agree with them.

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