WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney paid a surprise visit to the Capitol on Thursday, as Democrats in Congress solemnly marked the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
The former vice president told reporters he was there to support his daughter, Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who is vice chair of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack. But he also wanted to come to Washington to commemorate the dark day.
“It’s an important historical event. You can’t overestimate how important it is,” Dick Cheney said before he and his daughter entered the House chamber for a moment of silence.
There, it was starkly obvious how many Republicans shared the former VP’s view of the day’s importance: Save for the two Cheneys and an aide, every seat on the Republican half of the massive chamber was empty.
Over the past year, Liz Cheney’s willingness to condemn former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the deadly insurrection, and her refusal to downplay its significance, have made her a pariah within her party.
On Thursday, as Democrats held events around the Capitol all day, Republicans were absent.
No Republican senators attended a separate commemorative event held in the Senate, and Liz Cheney was the only elected member of the GOP who attended the morning session in the House.
A few Republican senators released written statements that acknowledged the tragedy of a day when thousands of Trump supporters breached the capitol in a failed attempt to prevent the Senate from formally certifying President Joe Biden’s election win over Trump.
“A year later, the sadness and anger of knowing that it was Americans who breached the center of our democracy, to thwart certification of a lawful election, remains with me,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement.
“We ignore the lessons of January 6 at our own peril. Democracy is fragile; it cannot survive without leaders of integrity and character,” read a statement by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) departs Senate Republican policy luncheons at the Russell Senate Office Building on April 29, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Stefani Reynolds | Getty Images
Murkowski and Romney were among the 7 Republican senators who voted last year to convict Trump when he was impeached for inciting the attack, and the only ones to release public statements on Thursday.
The other five who voted to convict were Maine’s Susan Collins, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
Collins and Cassidy briefly addressed the anniversary of the attack this week in interviews with local media. Sasse gave the Omaha World-Herald a statement emphasizing that the violent attempt to overturn the 2020 election had been a failure. Neither Burr nor Toomey publicly marked the anniversary.
Elsewhere, Republican leaders lambasted Democrats for the events, alleging the party was using the anniversary as a “political weapon” with which to attack Republicans.
“The actions of that day were lawless and as wrong as wrong can be,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wrote in a letter to his caucus earlier in the week. But he also claimed that Democrats were “using it as a partisan political weapon to further divide our country.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney looks on as his daughter Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., takes the oath of office on the House floor on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
For the elder Cheney, who served in the House for a decade in the 1980s, much of the fault lies with GOP leaders.
“I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution,” Dick Cheney said at the Capitol Thursday.
The leader of the GOP
While McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell serve as the elected leaders of the Republican party, it is Trump — who does not hold an official position — who wields the most power over the GOP caucus.
Over the past year, Trump and his close allies have worked to create a false, alternative version of what happened on Jan. 6. In this version, the marchers who beat Capitol Police officers bloody and demanded that Vice President Mike Pence be hanged are patriots and heroes, not rioters.
On Thursday, Trump echoed that view, issuing a series of statements repeating his false claims about the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden by more than 6 million votes.