Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the anniversary of the January 6th Insurrection of the U.S. Capitol and the insidious and lasting attack on our democracy fed by Donald Trump’s Big Lie. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
It is difficult to put into words what it is like to stand here on the floor of the United States Senate, on this day of all days.
For one hundred sixty-three years, this space has been the home of the upper chamber of the American Congress. What has taken place inside this room over the centuries has determined, in very real ways, the trajectory of our nation. In this room we carry on the mission handed down to us by the framers, to assure the voice of the people is heard and represented and acted upon.
But one year ago today—on January 6th, 2021—mob violence descended upon this chamber and upon this Capitol.
Thousands of rioters, possessed by equal measures of rage, conspiracy, and spurred into action by the sitting President of the United States, attacked the United States Capitol in an armed, violent, and deadly effort to halt the peaceful transfer of power. Its windows were smashed, its offices were vandalized, and lawmakers and our staffs—everyday citizens who love their country and work here every day—feared for their lives. Nearly 140 police officers were injured, and at least five people lost their lives that day or in its aftermath.
The warnings of history are clear: when democracies are in danger, it often starts with a mob. That’s what happened one year ago, here in this building: a mob attack.
And for mob violence to win the day it doesn’t need everyone to join in, it just needs a critical mass of people to stay out of the way, to ignore it, to underestimate it, to excuse it, and even condone it.
The mob can start out as a small number, but if it’s allowed to grow, and leaders egg on the mob, encourage it, it can become poison. That is what Donald Trump is doing, as even his response to President Biden’s speech today showed.
And once that happens, the unthinkable could become real. Democracy erodes and could— God forbid, God forbid, horror of horrors—vanish.
The poisonous mob mentality lives on today, in the threats against election workers, poll workers, even other public servants like school board members and health workers. This is what erodes a democracy, and Donald Trump today continues to spread his poisonous bile about the Big Lie.
To borrow from President Franklin Roosevelt, the violent insurrection of January 6th was a day that will forever live in infamy, a permanent stain in the story of American Democracy, and the final, bitter, unforgivable act of the worst president in modern times.
Today, on this first anniversary, members from both the House and Senate, and our staffs, and the President and Vice President are here today at the Capitol, and one of our purposes is to share memories in commemoration of that day.
At noon, we will hold a moment of silence in honor of those who were lost because of the attack.
And to all my colleagues and to staff who struggle to get through today, you are not alone— you are not alone. We are here by your side. The Employee Assistance Program has resources available to all Senate staff who are processing what happened a year ago.
Let me share my personal experience on that day. As I’ve recounted many times since then, my personal experience that day was in some ways like the opening sentence of Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities”: the best of times, the worst of times.
First came the best of times. Several hours before the attack, at 4 a.m. in the morning, I learned that our two Democratic Senators had won in the Georgia runoff and we would gain the majority. At 4 a.m. it became clear. I tried to get some sleep, but I couldn’t. I got down in my car, drove to Washington and got to the floor of this chamber at 1 p.m. for the first time, as the putative Majority Leader.
Within 45 minutes of sitting there, watching the beginning of the counting of ballots, a police officer in a big flak jacket and a large rifle grabbed me firmly by the collar like this. I’ll never forget that grip. And said to me, “Senator, we got to get out of here, you're in danger.”
We walked out the Senate chamber door, made a right turn, went through another door. This happened to be captured on the video, the videotape above, and it was shown at the impeachment trial, although, I didn't even know they had the tape until I saw it at the impeachment trial. But we go through the door, you don't see us for 20 seconds, and then we are running out of the door at full speed.
I was within 30 feet of these nasty, racist, bigoted insurrectionists. Had someone had a gun, had two of them blocked off the door, who knows what would have happened. I was told later that one of them reportedly said, “There's the big Jew. Let's get him.” Bigotry against one is bigotry against all.
And I saw something that I had been told later never happened before, the Confederate flag flying in this dear Capitol. That's just one of many searing, grotesque images of that unimaginable, most un-American day.
There were good moments, too. I remember when the leaders, Senator McConnell, myself, Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, were sent off to the secret place. We convened, after desperately trying to get the president on the phone to ask him to call the rioters off.
We spoke to the Secretary of Defense and the Acting Attorney General, but to no avail. But then the four of us got together and said, we're going to come back. We're going to count those votes. We're not going to let the violent insurrectionists stop us. And count the votes we did. Until, I believe it was, 3:00 a.m. the next morning. That was a good moment amidst a lot of bad moments.
So now we ask, one year later, how shall our country move forward?
What are we to say and think and do in response to a day when a sitting American president, rather than step down from office, unleashed his own supporters to attack the government through mob violence? How can we help those scarred by that day find solace, find healing?
How can we make clear to the American people, to the world, and even to ourselves that our democracy is still whole?
First, we must begin by commemorating our emergency responders who have died, whether through complications from injuries or, sadly, through suicide, in the days and months after the violence.
Brian Sicknick of New Jersey.
Howie Liebengood of Virginia.
Billy Evans of Massachusetts.
Jeffery Smith of Illinois.
And Gunther Hashida of Virginia.
Today and every day we remember them, we mourn their loss, we honor their limitless heroism in the face of the unthinkable.
Second, we also thank every single member of the Capitol Police, the DC Metro Police, and the National Guard who kept us safe and prevented a violent riot from turning into something much worse. That afternoon, our Capitol Police were outnumbered, unprepared, and largely left on their own. Just watching on television the brutal beating of one of them by the mob, another being crushed between a door and a wall, it just rips your heart apart and you relive that day and you remember how the Capitol Police suffered but persisted and helped preserve our democracy. When they held the line our democracy survived. So, not only do we thank them, but we commit to continue supporting them and fighting for them as they fought to defend this building.
Finally, the only way we’ll truly move forward from January 6th is by speaking truth to power—we cannot avoid it. The truth about what happened that day, about what led to the violence, about what it means for our democracy moving forward.
I say this because too many – often depending on their allegiances – seem desperate to sweep the memory of January 6th under the rug. Too many are working to re-write the history of what happened, to downplay or excuse or even defend the mob – to excuse an insurrection of this very Capitol! Too many are hoping that the American people will just look away and forget that that day ever took place.
After all, they say, Donald Trump is no longer president, right?
That cannot happen. We can't let that happen. We have an obligation not to let that happen because history shows us when you ignore or paint over this kind of violent action, it will recur, often in worse form than it had originally. That's what history shows.
We did not look away after the attack on Pearl Harbor. We did not look away after the attacks on 9/11.
They may have been from foreign powers, but we still, just because it was Americans who did this, we cannot look away after the attack of January 6th.
What we must do instead is stare the truth, however ugly, in the face: the attack of January 6th didn’t come out of the blue. It was not an act of God. It was not something that came from foreign soil. It wasn’t even just some mere protest that got out of hand.
No, no, no, no, no. January 6th was an attempt to reverse, through violent means, the outcome of a free and fair election. An insurrection. Call it what it was. And it was fundamentally rooted in Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the election of 2020 was illegitimate, in deep offense to the peaceful transfer of power. Indeed, in deep offense to the very notion of truth itself.
And anyone who thinks that the origins of this insurrection are going away should just have listened a few moments ago when Donald Trump did it again—lying and lying and lying about the election. A clear reminder of the threat he and his lie remain to our nation.
Alarmingly, alarmingly, many of his supporters quickly embraced the lie in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Many of them truly believed — and still believe — that he won the election and the game was rigged. Not a small number. Large numbers of Americans. If you look at the polls, tens of millions.
It didn’t matter that there was no proof to any of these claims. Donald Trump kept saying it and saying it and saying it again, and called his supporters to rally here in Washington in a last ditch effort to stay in power.
We all know this, that’s what happened. We cannot forget it.
It was Donald Trump’s Big Lie that soaked our political landscape in kerosene. It was Donald Trump’s rally on the mall that struck the match. And then came the fire. And pouring gasoline on that fire are many in one branch of our media who spread the Big Lie then and continue to spread the Big Lie today, even though they know it’s false. And millions listen to these people and believe it.
Here, too, is another terrible truth: the disease of the Big Lie continues to this day. The attacks on our democracy are ongoing, if not by the force of baseball bats and pipe bombs then certainly through a quieter, much more organized effort to subvert democracy from the bottom up.
Just as the Big Lie inspired the attack of January 6th, the Big Lie continues like a disease across state legislatures throughout the country, where we’re seeing the most restrictive voter suppression efforts since Jim Crow. Since Jim Crow – in 21st century America, turning the clock way back.
Let’s be abundantly clear: these new anti-voter laws are on the books today only because their authors cited the Big Lie, cited the fictitious bugaboo of voter fraud, and are trying to succeed where the insurrection failed.
Unless we confront the Big Lie—unless we all do our part to fortify and strengthen our democracy—the political violence of January 6th risks becoming not an aberration but, God forbid, the norm.
And we've seen it too in the threats against election workers, teachers, school administrators, health care workers. We cannot put our heads in the sand. We cannot brush this over.
And what does that mean for the Senate? I think we have to talk about the realities here today too. It means we must pass legislation, effective legislation, to defend our democracy, to protect the right to vote.
We must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, so that our country’s destiny is determined by the voice of the people, and not by the violent whims of lies and even mob rule.
We must also guard against the false hopes of solutions that don’t deal with the problem, that try to cover it up or push it away because some people don’t want to deal with it. Some say the answer lies in doing the bare minimum, like reforming the Electoral Count Act that my friend the Republican Leader has floated in recent days.
Let me take this opportunity to make clear that that plan, the McConnell Plan, that’s what it is, is unacceptably insufficient and even offensive. Scorekeeping matters little if the game is rigged.
And as we know too well, state legislatures are working day and night to undermine our democratic process from the get-go, by empowering partisans to potentially say which ballots count and which do not, what good is it to accurately count a result that’s compromised from the start?
Senator McConnell’s plan to reform the Electoral Count Act would do nothing more than codify the Vice President’s ceremonial role in the counting of the electoral college votes, effectively guaranteeing that partisan state legislatures could overturn the elections without fear of recourse. Look at what it does. Look at what it does. It’s a cynical idea. It's an idea to divert attention from the real issue because they don't want to confront the real issue.
This cannot be, this should not be, about one party versus another. Voting rights has always been bipartisan, supported by Bush, H.W. and W., supported by Reagan, passing this chamber with large votes from both sides of the aisle. That's what always used to happen until the Republican Party was taken over by Donald Trump.
So, it's not about one party versus another. It can’t be. It is about one terrible lie against democracy itself. The kind of lie that if let stand, both verbally and in action, erodes our democracy, erodes our democracy. There's already a substantial minority who don't believe our elections are legitimate, aided and egged on by Donald Trump and the right-wing media.
What if a majority of this country, because of these pernicious actions, start believing it? A majority of Americans don't believe that elections are on the level? Just ask yourself what will happen. I can't predict the details, but I can predict that it will diminish the greatness of this country in small and even large ways.
So we cannot, it should not, be a partisan issue. It is about falsehood versus truth. In the history of this country we have always disagreed on ideology but never on facts until recently, and in such an important area.
If lying about results of an election is acceptable, if instigating a mob against the government is considered permissible, if encouraging political violence becomes the norm, it will be open season on this grand democracy, this noble experiment; and everything will be up for grabs by whoever has the biggest clubs, the sharpest spears, the most effective lies.
I do not believe that this will be the ultimate destiny of our country. The mob may be strong, but the counter is stronger. The roots of democracy, the feelings of the American people and the affection and love for this grand, noble experiment in democracy is stronger as long as we speak out, as long as we act. The wellspring of democracy is deep, and even in the most difficult of times Americans have rallied and risen to the occasion.
Since the early days of our Republic, Americans launched mighty movements, fought a bloody civil war, and—yes—passed federal election laws and voting rights laws to expand the promise of democracy until there were no more boundaries.
We are called on, importuned, by the millions who have lost their lives to defend this democracy to defend it once again—I call on all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Independents—to rise to the occasion and assure that the mob, the violence, the lies does not win the day.
Let the anniversary of January 6th forever serve as a reminder that the march to perfect our Democracy is never over, that our democracy is a precious, sometimes fragile gift purchased by those who struggled before us, and that all of us now must do our part to keep the American vision going in the present and into the future.
Somehow, in ways I can’t predict, that I know are true, I am certain that God’s mysterious hand will guide us, and truth and right will prevail.