WASHINGTON – As Senate Majority Leader on September 11, 2001, Tom Daschle was among those hastily evacuated amid the chaos of an expected attack on the Capitol, only to return later that evening for a bipartisan demonstration of unity and resolution on the marble steps. many had fled a few hours earlier.
“We all got together after 9/11 and declared ourselves Americans, not just Republicans and Democrats, as we sang ‘God Bless America’ on those same steps of the Capitol and returned to business the next morning,” Mr. Daschle, the former Democratic Senator from South Dakota, recalled this week.
But like many Democrats, Mr. Daschle is not in a unifying mood following the assault on Capitol Hill by a pro-Trump mob last week, and January 6 is not turning out to be a moment of the 11th. September.
This time, the threat to Congress did not come from 19 shadowy hijackers from abroad but from within – fellow Americans and colleagues taking their usual places in the House and Senate to try to overthrow the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and stoking President Trump’s misrepresentation about stolen elections, which inspired the violent riots that drove lawmakers out of the House and Senate.
“On September 11, we were united as Americans against a common enemy, a foreign enemy, foreign terrorists,” said Senator Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine who was on Capitol Hill for the two shocking events. “On January 6, America was divided against itself.”
Outraged by the conduct of Republicans who perpetuated Mr Trump’s false allegations of widespread electoral fraud, Democrats are determined to impeach the president a second time, try to expel and censor members who sought to overthrow the election presidential election even after the mob stormed the Capitol, and ostracize Republicans who do not recognize and apologize for their role.
The 2001 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York – and the recognition that a horrific assault on the Capitol was prevented only by courageous passengers who shot down Flight 93 in Pennsylvania – led to an extraordinary period of courtesy and cooperation of the Congress.
The two parties immediately united to show their strength despite the Democrats’ lingering resentment over the Supreme Court ruling that had given the presidency to George W. Bush a few months earlier. Democrats and Republicans have put aside their very real differences – including the concern of some Democrats that the new administration has ignored warnings about the attack – to present an impenetrable front to the country and the world.
“This Congress is united – Democrats, Independents, Republicans,” said Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the Democratic leader, during a grim but angry proceeding on September 12 as Congress passed a resolution condemning the attacks and promising national unity in the face of such a situation. threats. “There is neither light nor air between us. We stand side by side.
Today there is outright hostility among members of Congress, emotions that will be hard to contain even as Mr. Biden plans an “America United” themed inauguration – an admirable goal, but one that seems difficult, if not impossible to achieve. the moment.
Democrats claim that a considerable number of their fellow Republicans, by stoking Mr. Trump’s supporters and theirs with weeks of unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud, are complicit with the president in inciting an attack on Capitol Hill. The assault endangered the safety of lawmakers, law enforcement, employees and members of the news media while undermining the most basic tenets of American democracy. Now Democratic lawmakers report testing positive for the coronavirus after being isolated in secure rooms with Republicans who refused to wear masks, adding to their fury.
They are particularly angered that the same Republican lawmakers who refused to recognize Mr. Biden’s election and fueled divisions over the outcome are now pleading for Democrats to abandon their efforts to impeach Mr. Trump and punish complicit Republicans, in a late call for national unity. .
“They don’t want unity. They want absolution, ”said Representative Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona, still angry at the Republican challenge to his state’s vote count. “They want us to forgive them for their crimes and their cowardice committed under Donald Trump. They would rather feed this monster than defend the Constitution of the United States and our democracy.
Mr Gallego, who has said he will head a natural resources subcommittee, said he and other Democrats are exploring ways to marginalize Republicans who fail to recognize the consequences of their actions if Congress does not wasn’t taking action to try to oust those who were most adamant against counting. Mr. Biden’s ballots.
“I am considering not allowing any Republican bills to go to the floor if you are one of the people who voted against recognizing Arizona’s votes,” said Mr. Gallego, who said that he had steadily advanced Republican bills in the past. “I don’t know if I can look at any of these limbs the same way unless there is a good level of contrition.
For a brief period last Wednesday, there was a glimmer of hope for 9/11 unity as the House and Senate reconvened in the same rooms that had been ransacked by the crowds hours before, determined to demonstrate that the rioters would not end the count. electoral votes. Lawmakers struck a provocative tone reminiscent of the chant on the steps of the Capitol, which this time had been occupied by hundreds of insurgents bent on denying Congress the ability to compile legitimate presidential votes.
“The US Senate will not be intimidated,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader. “We will not be kept away from this room by thugs, crowds or threats.”
At the same time, some Senate Republicans, notably Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, have given up on their plans to challenge the electoral vote. But other Republicans, despite the havoc the election challenge had just taken on Capitol Hill and the fact that they were certain to fail, advanced their objections, one of which was backed by seven Republican senators and 138 members. from the room.
“I give great credit to the Senate and the House leadership for resuming working hours afterwards, but I am shocked that a majority of House Republicans voted to overturn the results of the elections, ”said Daschle, who recommended ethical inquiries in both. bedrooms. “Truly amazing and deeply disturbing. My contempt for them and for those in the Senate who led the effort could not be greater.
Republicans protested that Democrats were trying to exploit the riot for political gain and risk more violence themselves by proceeding with impeachment.
“Why continue this?” Arizona Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko lobbied Democrats on Tuesday in a tense Rules Committee meeting before the House took action calling on Vice President Mike Pence to remove Mr. Trump under the 25th Amendment. “This risks causing more divisions. Record your wins and let’s move on. “
Democrats scoffed, noting Republicans still refused to concede that the election was not stolen or that Mr. Biden’s victory was not the result of widespread fraud.
Without sincere recognition by concerned Republicans that they were the instigators and facilitators of the January 6 chaos, Democrats were far from ready to move forward, holding account for the attack on Capitol Hill that rocked Washington.
For now, the political unity that has become a defining feature of the consequences of the September 11 attacks will remain elusive.