Bitter anger over Jan. 6 riots lingers in the House

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., walks out after a vote on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., walks out after a vote on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced a major breakthrough Friday with the outlines of bipartisan commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6 after several months of deadlock on the issue.

But that achievement got largely overshadowed by a week's worth of events that demonstrated just how, four and a half months after insurrectionists supporting Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, the House is still consumed by the fallout from that horrific day.

On Wednesday, a freshman Republican used a House hearing investigating the attacks as a platform to compare the insurrection - which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and at least 140 officers injured - to tourists going through the building.

Later that evening, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. - whom some Democrats have accused of aiding the Jan. 6 rioters - stomped out of the House chamber and down the steps screaming at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., about why she wouldn't debate her on policy.

That prompted the young liberal star to raise the matter with security officials.

The incidents came as Democrats refuse to let Republicans who did not vote to certify President Joe Biden's election sign on to their bills. On Tuesday, Republicans took down a noncontroversial measure designed to fight opioid abuse because the lead Democrat refused to allow the previous GOP co-author a prominent slot on the legislation.

As they left the Capitol on Friday, after a member of Greene's staff had a verbal clash with a different Democrat, lawmakers still had bitter feelings about the past several days.

"We've got an obligation to govern, but we also are human, and we're shaped by the experiences that we had that day," Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said.

The issue now surrounds so much of what happens in the House. Democrats feel that either Republicans actually support the Jan. 6 insurrectionists or that political fears keep them from fully denouncing that mob, often likening its attempt to overthrow a democratic election to the violence that occurred at some of last summer's social justice protests.

"There's real dysfunction in the Republican conference. They're really convulsing with themselves about who they are and what their identity is," Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., told reporters Friday.

Some Republicans counter that Democrats are unfairly lumping them together with the rioters, suggesting that there are votes that each side considers anathema and that no bipartisan work will ever happen if this standard is used.

"Listen, it is ridiculous. If we're going to hold somebody responsible for every vote that they've made, none of us are going to be able to work together," Rep. Earl L. "Buddy" Carter, R-Ga., said. "This is an important issue, it's a bipartisan issue. [Dean's] stand is completely wrong. She wanted me to apologize. It will be a cold day in hell before I apologize to her for my vote on January 6th."

Two years ago, Carter signed on as the lead Republican to legislation drafted by Dean to combat the opioid epidemic, but after his Jan. 6 vote against Biden's victory, Dean would allow Carter only to be an ordinary co-sponsor of the anti-opioid bill. It was scheduled on a fast-track, because the original version passed unanimously last year, so it required a two-thirds majority for approval.

Instead, Carter asked Republicans to vote against the otherwise-popular measure to protest how Democrats treated him, and Republicans in general.

It failed Tuesday, receiving just 250 votes, and Democrats will now have to schedule a more time-consuming process to approve the bill.

With 139 Republicans voting for one of the two motions to oppose Biden's victory, Democrats imposing this standard are aware that it walls off almost two-thirds of the GOP caucus for collaboration.

"I will not lift up as a leader somebody who voted not to certify the election when that was connected to an insurrection, a lot of disinformation," Dean said.

Other Democrats do not hold quite as strict a standard and remain optimistic that there are Republicans who are worthy of bipartisan work.

"While there are some of those negative examples - and I would just basically call them what they are - they are just outliers, on the other side of the aisle," Aguilar said. "There are plenty of folks, I feel, who still want this place to work. They want to govern."

A junior member of the Democratic leadership team, Aguilar pointed to Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., who worked with Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee to come up with a deal for an evenly divided commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection.

"Every member is going to be shaped by their experiences, which are kind of guided by where they were physically that day," he said.

For Aguilar, 41, that day placed him in the most precarious of positions, at the very back of the House chamber as rioters smashed glass and tried to break through a locked door to get onto the floor where dozens of lawmakers were trying to figure out an evacuation path.

Along with Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., he was there with Capitol Police who pushed a desk in front of the door to blockade it. The officers pulled out pistols to threaten the rioters.

Their actions helped prevent a disaster, yet later that night Mullin - a teammate of Aguilar's on the congressional football team - voted against Biden's election.

Aguilar thinks he can still work with his GOP friend, but there is a sense of discontent.

"Can I be personally disappointed by people's votes who experienced that and came back and voted? Absolutely," Aguilar said.

Greene and Ocasio-Cortez have nothing but ill will between them.

"This is a woman that's deeply unwell, and clearly needs some help," Ocasio-Cortez said Friday, suggesting the Republican has a "kind of fixation" on her.

Greene, whose controversial and threatening social media posts discussed the deaths of Democrats a few years ago, has been trying to compel Ocasio-Cortez to have a formal debate on climate policy. Greene acknowledged that she has been aggressive in trying to get her to engage.

"So far, she's been very scared, and she runs away and doesn't want to talk to anyone, and she doesn't want to debate her policy," Greene told reporters Friday.

Earlier that day one of her aides told Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., to stop wearing his mask because of Thursday's revised federal safety guidelines, prompting Swalwell to tell him to mind his own business.

Carter said that he will never do the one thing Democrats want - recant his Jan. 6 vote - and he understands the fallout. He believes that state judges made rulings in three states that overstepped their legal boundaries during the election, and he is content with his vote.

"The bigger issue itself is the objection to the electoral certification, which I did do, and I would do over 100 times if I had the opportunity because I feel very strongly," Carter said.