At the Capitol, a Day of Somber Remembrance

The anniversary of Jan. 6 was part national commemoration, part group therapy session and part slick production as Democrats marked the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries.,

WASHINGTON — Standing on the House floor on Thursday, Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, looked up to the gallery seats above and decided she was ready, for the first time in a year, to return to where she was when a mob tried to break into the chamber.

Accompanied by her colleagues, she found the seat in the balcony where she had been as the House met to count electoral votes to confirm President Biden’s victory. Free of the escape hood she held as rioters stormed the building, she walked through the gallery row, reflecting on what happened during the attack and the events since.


A Capitol Police officer near doors that had been destroyed during the assault.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


A surveillance camera outside the Capitol.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


Capitol Police officers at roll call before the events of the day.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

The seemingly small gesture was just one moment in a strange and emotional day on Capitol Hill that drifted between solemn remembrance, mass therapy session and flashy production, on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack.

“I think I had been afraid of what it was going to trigger — it was good to conquer that small fear,” Ms. Jayapal said in an interview. “There’s no closure. This is not an event that happened in the past. We’re tying up some ends here, and that was one of them.”

The Capitol has a familiar routine pageantry for a public tribute, as an institution that often leads commemorations of the country’s significant figures and moments, its achievements and also its darkest days. On Thursday, as President Biden and Democrats relived the brutal violence and mayhem of a year ago, the atmosphere in the Capitol was quiet and calm, and the security presence felt much lighter than it did in the days after the riot.


A demonstrator outside the Capitol while a guide gave a tour to students.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


Cheryl L. Johnson, the House clerk, before President Biden arrived.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


Before speaking, Mr. Biden told reporters that he hoped the United States never experienced a day like Jan. 6 again.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times


Vice President Kamala Harris said that Jan. 6 was among the “dates that occupy not only a place on our calendars, but a place in our collective memory.”Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times


Mr. Biden took deliberate aim at former President Donald J. Trump.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

There was Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, taking photos while staff frantically wiped the footprints off the shiny black stage where Mr. Biden would deliver a bracing speech condemning former President Donald J. Trump for holding “a dagger at the throat of America.”

On the Senate floor and across the Capitol in the House, Democratic lawmakers took turns sharing their recollections of the harrowing day the Capitol came under attack with them inside. Republicans, who have refused to confront their party’s role in inspiring the attack with lies of a stolen election and sought to play down its severity, were conspicuous by their absence.


Since his inauguration, Mr. Biden has repeatedly condemned the violent assault on the Capitol.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times


The president said that “some courageous men and women” were trying to uphold the principles of the Republican Party, but “too many others are transforming that party into something else.”Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Historians wrestled with how the day will be enshrined by future generations, at a panel convened by Democrats to contextualize what happened. They kicked off the forum with a recorded performance of “Dear Theodosia,” a song from the musical “Hamilton” performed by members of its cast and introduced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, its superstar creator, producing a jarring Broadway moment on an otherwise somber day.


Representative Andy Kim, Democrat of New Jersey, petting Gizmo, a therapy dog, inside the Rotunda.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, spoke to reporters.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


With the approval of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, National Statuary Hall was transformed into a set for a CNN prime-time special marking the anniversary of the attack.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


Representative Liz Cheney, right, with her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

There were just two Republicans present in the House chamber for a moment of silence commemorating the riot in the Capitol: Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

While Republican leaders stayed away from the remembrances at the Capitol, Ms. Cheney — who was ousted from her leadership post for speaking out against Mr. Trump — and her father stood solemnly with hands over their hearts.

Top Democrats, who regarded Mr. Cheney as a detested foe when he served under President George W. Bush, lined up to shake his hand and greet him warmly.

It was a striking image on a day when the only official Republican event on Capitol Hill was hosted by Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, two far-right lawmakers on the fringes of the Republican Party. They held a news conference elevating conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 assault and protesting the treatment of those arrested after participating.

Outside the House chamber, National Statuary Hall, the ornate marble-floored room that displays statues from states around the country, had been transformed into a backdrop for a slick television set, erected by CNN for a prime-time special marking the anniversary of the attack.

Surrounded with bright lights, a camera crane and teleprompters, the large black circular stage was an unusual sight in the historic hall, drawing quiet jeers from Republicans who said Democrats were making a spectacle of the anniversary. Democrats said they would accept no lectures on propriety from a party that had spread the election lies that led to the attack that was being memorialized.


Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, both Republicans, elevated conspiracy theories about the assault.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


A laptop recording the news conference of Ms. Greene and Mr. Gaetz.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times


A demonstrator outside the Capitol.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

Several lawmakers chose to deliver their recollections from elsewhere in the Capitol, chronicling their at times harrowing experiences for the Congressional Record and the C-SPAN archive. One congresswoman, Sara Jacobs of California, recalled how she prepared to wield a pair of high heels as a weapon if necessary as the rioters closed in on Jan. 6, which was her fourth day in office.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, spoke about his own close encounter with the mob. He recalled how an officer grabbed him by the collar to lead him to safety, only moments before rioters reached the Senate floor.

Key Figures in the Jan. 6 Inquiry

Card 1 of 10

The House investigation. A select committee is scrutinizing the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which occurred as Congress met to formalize Joe Biden’s election victory amid various efforts to overturn the results. Here are some people being examined by the panel:

Donald Trump. The former president’s movement and communications on Jan. 6 appear to be a focus of the inquiry. But Mr. Trump has attempted to shield his records, invoking executive privilege. The dispute is making its way through the courts.

Mark Meadows. Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who initially provided the panel with a trove of documents that showed the extent of his role in the efforts to overturn the election, is now refusing to cooperate. The House voted to recommend holding Mr. Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress.

Scott Perry and Jim Jordan. The Republican representatives of Pennsylvania and Ohio are among a group of G.O.P. congressmen who were deeply involved in efforts to overturn the election. Mr. Perry has refused to meet with the panel.

Phil Waldron. The retired Army colonel has been under scrutiny since a 38-page PowerPoint document he circulated on Capitol Hill was turned over to the panel by Mr. Meadows. The document contained extreme plans to overturn the election.

Fox News anchors. Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade texted Mr. Meadows during the Jan. 6 riot urging him to persuade Mr. Trump to make an effort to stop it. The texts were part of the material that Mr. Meadows had turned over to the panel.

Steve Bannon. The former Trump aide has been charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, claiming protection under executive privilege even though he was an outside adviser. His trial is scheduled for next summer.

Michael Flynn. Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser attended an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18 in which participants discussed seizing voting machines and invoking certain national security emergency powers. Mr. Flynn has filed a lawsuit to block the panel’s subpoenas.

Jeffrey Clark. The little-known official repeatedly pushed his colleagues at the Justice Department to help Mr. Trump undo his loss. The panel has recommended that Mr. Clark be held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate.

John Eastman. The lawyer has been the subject of intense scrutiny since writing a memo that laid out how Mr. Trump could stay in power. Mr. Eastman was present at a meeting of Trump allies at the Willard Hotel that has become a prime focus of the panel.

“I’ll never forget that grip,” Mr. Schumer said. “And he said to me: ‘Senator, we got to get out of here. You’re in danger.'”

In the same office room where the select committee investigating the attack has convened to formally hold witnesses in contempt for stonewalling its work, House Democrats spent two hours sharing their experiences, hugging and clasping hands when a colleague had finished.

The family of Officer Brian D. Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died after being attacked during the riot, was also there, aides said.


A vigil near the Capitol before lawmakers gathered on the steps of the complex for a ceremony.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times


A group demonstrating for voting rights during a vigil.Credit…Shuran Huang for The New York Times

In addition to the traditional moments of silence conducted in both chambers, Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a private moment on the House floor for lawmakers, staff, institutional workers, police officers and reporters to reflect on the day.

It is unusual for anyone other than lawmakers and select floor staff to participate in such a personal moment that way, underscoring how deeply the events affected not only those who were there last Jan. 6, but those who helped clean up the damage and steer the institution back to some form of normalcy.

“As we acknowledge the horror of that day, we honor the heroism of so many, particularly U.S. Capitol Police, institutional staff, floor leadership, committee and member staff,” Ms. Pelosi said during the noon session.

Lawmakers concluded the day with a brief candlelight vigil on the steps of the Capitol, murmuring softly to “God Bless America” in the cold night.

But many lawmakers found significance in smaller ways around the Capitol on Thursday. Horrified by the litter and garbage left behind in the Rotunda after the riot, Representative Andy Kim, Democrat of New Jersey, spent that evening a year ago collecting trash, his blue suit becoming coated in dust and grime as he knelt on the marble floor.


Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died after being attacked during the riot, attended a vigil on the steps of the Capitol.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times


Ms. Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer and congressional staff members at the vigil.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times


Republican senators and staff members arrived at the Capitol after returning from the funeral of former Senator Johnny Isakson.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

On Thursday, he knelt in nearly the exact same spot — only this time to pet Gizmo, a three-and-a-half-pound Mi-Ki, one of a half-dozen therapy dogs roaming the Capitol throughout the day to provide comfort to Capitol Police officers, lawmakers and staff.

“I don’t actually step over there anymore — that part of the Rotunda,” Mr. Kim said. “I try not to mix new memories in with that feeling that I had back then because I want to keep it. I don’t want to lose how I felt that day.”


Lawmakers ended the day with a candlelight vigil.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Nicholas Fandos, Catie Edmondson and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

Leave a Reply