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.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, depart after attending a moment of silence event to mark the first anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 6, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
“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.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) attends a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2021.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
“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.
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.
U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) departs a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, December 1, 2021.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters
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.”
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.
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.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell puts his hand to his head as he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speak to reporters following an infrastructure meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2021.
Kevin Lemarque | Reuters
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.