Donald Trump’s grip prompts Republicans to dodge January 6 Capitol riot anniversary

Former president’s continued defence of Capitol riot has prompted most in his party to carefully avoid anything to do with its anniversary

Commemorations marking the anniversary of the January 6 attack took place in Washington on Thursday. AP
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As US President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats held a series of events on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Republicans maintained their silence.

With the House of Representatives out of session and no votes in the Senate, Republican leaders and much of the caucus managed to avoid the commemorations on Capitol Hill.

The relative silence marks an abrupt turnaround from the same day a year ago, when Republican leaders pleaded with former president Donald Trump to call off the violent mob that tried to overturn the presidential election results.

Their overwhelming reticence to speak out also highlights the former president’s continued hold over the party, as the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him over his role in last year’s events find their political careers in jeopardy.

While he cancelled a competing speech that initially scheduled for January 6, Mr Trump nonetheless issued a statement repeating lies that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged".

He is still expected to repeat his unfounded claims of mass voter fraud during a rally in Arizona next week, previewing a potential campaign message for the 2024 elections.

Mr Trump also took aim at the House committee given the task of investigating the events of January 6, which has become a lightning rod of criticism within Mr Trump’s party.

Most Republicans have boycotted the committee, with the exception of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both of whom voted for Mr Trump’s impeachment.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of the few Republicans to issue a statement condemning last year’s failed insurrection, but he refrained from mentioning Mr Trump, instead accusing Democrats of politicising the attack.

“The United States Capitol, the seat of the first branch of our federal government, was stormed by criminals who brutalised police officers and used force to try to stop Congress from doing its job,” said Mr McConnell.

He went on to accuse Democrats of exploiting the anniversary “to advance partisan policy goals that long predated this event”, saying the opposing party sought “to damage the Senate in a different way from within” — a reference to calls from some within the party to reform the filibuster, thereby making it easier to pass Mr Biden’s legislative agenda without Republican support.

The messaging marked a departure from last year, when Mr McConnell said Mr Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the attack.

Mr McConnell travelled to Georgia with several colleagues from his caucus on the January 6 anniversary to attend the funeral of Johnny Isakson, a former Republican senator who died last month.

Unlike Mr McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declined to even issue a statement — though he echoed similar accusations that Democrats were politicising the event to “divide the country” this week.

Still, Mr McCarthy said last year that Mr Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack and that he had desperately pleaded with the former president by phone to call off the attack.

Senior Republican legislators including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell attend the memorial service for former senator Johnny Isakson at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in the Buckhead neighbourhood of Atlanta, Georgia. Holly Aguirre / The National

Republican leaders have likely taken note of the fates of their colleagues who most vociferously condemned Mr Trump’s role in the failed insurrection — going so far as to side with Democrats in his second impeachment vote.

Mr Kinzinger and Anthony Gonzalez are both retiring at the end of the year following backlash among their constituents and members of their own party for siding against Mr Trump.

And Ms Cheney — who was one of the few Republicans to show up on Capitol Hill on the anniversary of the attack with her father, former vice president Dick Cheney — faces an uphill primary battle against a Trump-backed challenger during this year’s midterm election cycle.

Ironically, Ms Cheney’s challenger, Harriet Hageman, was a major critic of Mr Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.

It is unsurprising that Republican voters have come down hard on Mr Trump’s critics.

A Qunnipiac University poll from October found that 78 per cent of Republicans want the former president to run again in 2024, and 66 per cent of the party’s voters did not view January 6 as an attack on the US government.

Perhaps capitalising on this, two of Mr Trump’s close allies — Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor-Greene — did show up on Capitol Hill on the anniversary.

But instead of attending the memorial, they instead held a press conference during which they echoed conspiracy theories suggesting that the FBI may have instigated the January attack.

Updated: January 07, 2022, 6:10 AM