The Chilling Assault On Our Constitutional Republic

. . . . by Patrick Leahy

January 6, 2021, will forever mark a day of infamy for our nation.  It will be remembered because our beloved Capitol building — the very heart of our democracy — was stormed and laid under siege.  Rioters broke through windows, doors, and security barriers in both the Senate and House wings of the Capitol, assaulting Capitol Police officers, leaving a wake of destruction, and forcing me and other Members of Congress to temporarily delay fulfilling our constitutional duty to certify the presidential election.

It will be remembered because the President of the United States encouraged his supporters to commit these felonies — to march to the Capitol, “to show strength,” and “to fight.”  And it will be remembered because, even before all of that, more than 100 Members of the House and a dozen Senators supported a ploy to deprive the states and the American people of their constitutional role to choose our next president.  This political stunt amounted to nothing less than an assault on our constitutional republic.

The President’s obscene and cynical claim that the election was stolen from him, which he continued to spout even while his rioting supporters roamed the halls of the Capitol, has been flatly disproven time and again.  And his reliance on voters’ mistrust in the election as grounds for overturning the election results is particularly disingenuous, given that such mistrust is based on relentless false propaganda spread by President Trump and his allies.  It is not based on the evidence.  Not on the facts.  And not on the sober assessments of state election administrators, both Republicans and Democrats, who actually oversaw these elections and know what they are talking about. 

Attempting to reverse the election, President Trump and his allies lost more than 60 cases in courts across the country, by judges of every political stripe, including those appointed by the President.  The lopsidedness of these decisions was extraordinary.  It was been nothing less than a wholesale rejection of the President’s false claims.  But this was also not surprising.  The President’s own Attorney General said there is no evidence of widespread fraud.  His own Department of Homeland Security described it as the “most secure election in American history.”

The events of January 6 crystalized what we have known for some time.  President Trump serves no one but himself.  He is not a custodian or guardian of our democracy.  He is a man whose every decision is driven by his own shallow self-interest.  I did not expect him to be gracious in defeat.  I expected him to throw tantrums.  I’m not even surprised that his rhetoric incited violence, as it did on January 6.  That’s who President Trump is.  Yet I was surprised and disappointed that so many Members of Congress let it get this far.

Our obligation on Wednesday was simply to count the electoral votes, and to certify that Joe Biden won the election.  By pretending that Congress could effectively overturn the will of the American people, these Members of Congress, predictably, poured gasoline on an already lit fire.  We must now get to work to put this fire out.  I am glad that — just hours after the President’s supporters had been cleared from the Capitol, and in the middle of the night — Congress took the first step by certifying Joe Biden as the next President.  But the next step will be harder.  The only way we stand a chance of coming together as a country, let alone making progress for the American people, is by working together. 

I am thankful to the many Senate Republicans who forcefully rejected their colleagues’ dangerous political stunt, even before the violence.  Their words had meaning, and sent a message to the country that our democracy will endure.   

I have served as a senator for 46 years and am the dean of the Senate.  I can tell you that history will remember January 6.  Americans — along with the rest of the world — will not soon forget the brazen destruction within the very temple of our democracy, the President’s incitement of the lawlessness, and those in Congress who so casually attempted to overturn the will of the American people. 

But my hope is January 6 will also be remembered as a day our nation stood together, no matter our political leanings, in defense of our democracy.  We stood together, Democrats and Republicans, to reject the President’s recklessness and incitement, and to demand accountability for the attack on our Capitol.  In the Senate, we stood together and overwhelmingly rejected the handful of Republicans who still pursued their dangerous political stunt to undermine the election. 

We still have a long way to go.  I have long believed that President Trump is a threat to our constitutional republic.  And he will remain so until Joe Biden is sworn in as President on January 20.  President Trump should immediately resign or be removed from office.

I also share the sadness and anger of so many of my fellow Vermonters about the events on January 6.  There were times on that day when I feared for the strength of our democracy.  While I rushed through the corridors of the Capitol, I could not believe my eyes and ears.  People were frantic and scared; I could hear the rioters making their way to the Senate Floor.  But, as Americans have throughout our history, it is in our hour of need that we come together.  It is often through strife and grief that we emerge stronger.  I am hopeful that we did just that on January 6.

When I emerged from Capitol in the middle of that night, I was surprised by my sense of hope.  We are not through the storm yet, but this dark chapter in American history is nearing its end.  Vermonters are committed to ensuring that brighter days are ahead for this good and great country that we love.  As a U.S. Senator from the proud State of Vermont, I will always stand with Vermonters, and for our cherished heritage of freedom and democracy.

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[Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is Vermont’s senior U.S. Senator and the Dean of the Senate.]