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The Capitol after Jan. 6

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's been three years since a violent mob surrounded and infiltrated the United States Capitol, breaking through barricades and windows and attacking police officers, all in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election. In the show today, we're going to have several reports tied to January 6, including the latest on the multiple criminal charges that former President Trump is facing tied to that day, as well as his attempt to overturn the election. But we're going to start with looking at how the ghost, if you will, of that day still hangs over Congress and hangs over this year's upcoming election.

With us now, we have NPR congressional correspondents Deirdre Walsh and Claudia Grisales. Hey there.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.

DETROW: So do you see the impact of January 6, those riots, still now in how Congress functions, Deirdre?

WALSH: I do. I mean, personal relationships have changed dramatically across the aisle, and they've really suffered since January 6. Many Democrats said at the time they would never work or co-sponsor a bill with any Republican who voted to decertify the election results, and many have stuck to that. The other thing we've seen, I think, more on the House than the Senate is sort of the politics of personal attacks have really sharpened. Any time there's a controversy over something that someone says in public or a debate, there's been this move to censure.

DETROW: Yeah.

WALSH: And it's just sort of this sort of politics of payback.

DETROW: And, Claudia, I still think a lot about walking through the empty Capitol with you immediately after those attacks and looking at the broken windows and just seeing the devastation that it left throughout the buildings. Three years later, how do you see that still playing out in the atmosphere of the building?

GRISALES: Well, a lot of that physical damage is gone. But at the same time, all of these partisan fights we see now, the basis for a lot of what takes up the oxygen on the hill today is related to January 6 fights. Who was really at fault? Claims of political persecution by Republicans turning the tables in the House, when we see Republicans taking aim at Democrats basically trying to come back from what the work was of the House January 6 panel did - and so a lot of it continues to dominate day to day from regular legislating.

DETROW: I mean, we are now in the year of another presidential election. How does all of that stuff that's still lingering affect how people are thinking about and approaching and campaigning for 2024?

GRISALES: I mean, we're already seeing President Biden use the issue to kick off his presidential campaign this weekend, marking the three anniversary. So are congressional candidates and leaders on the Hill. Democrats are already arguing that Republicans keeping control of the House in 2024 will be a future threat to democracy. They point out that the current speaker, Mike Johnson, was a key architect of the legal argument to try to overturn the 2020 election results.

You also see Democrats pointing out that a lot of Republicans who are running this cycle, some of them were at the Capitol on January 6 or have supported financially those who were at the Capitol. And just this week, we got this announcement that Harry Dunn, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Capitol Police who gave very emotional testimony...

DETROW: Right.

GRISALES: ....Before the January 6 committee, announced he's running for Congress to replace retiring Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRY DUNN: Some of the same people who stood behind us when we protected them went back on the floor of Congress and stood behind Trump.

DETROW: Look. And there's a big contrast here with Republicans, right? The Republican position has really changed over time to this alternate reality view of what actually happened that day for many people, really underselling, even denying what happened at the Capitol. How did we get here, Claudia?

GRISALES: Right. I think in some ways, you can track the journey of then-Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who was one of those lead Republicans to denounce Trump soon after the wake of the attack, and it did not last long. He was one of those key players who was involved in rehabilitating the former president's image. And over time, that evolved to defending him, to presenting him as a martyr, someone who was being targeted as part of a political persecution, rather.

But at the same time, we did see then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi form the select committee to investigate the attack. And that presented a bit of a bipartisan front, if you will. Two of the members on that largely Democratic panel were Republicans who have since left Congress, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. But that said, they were able to present a narrative largely told by Republicans that Trump played a very large role in this attack. But this panel was forced to disband by the end of 2022, and that left a really big gap in terms of Republicans and their narrative. We can go back to May 2021. Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde referred to it as a normal tourist visit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CLYDE: Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol showed people in an orderly fashion, staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos and pictures.

GRISALES: And so we've seen this narrative continue to find its way into the Republican base and grow the support of even conspiracy theories that the FBI was behind the January 6 attack. And so it's given Republicans...

DETROW: Yeah.

GRISALES: ...A lot of opportunity here to further that story.

DETROW: Three years later, given all of this, is political violence still a threat in Congress?

WALSH: It is. I mean, you can see that in terms of the rising threats against lawmakers and their families, there was a recent arrest this week of a Florida person who made a threat against a lawmaker and his family. Now and again, you see members who have security details because of these types of threats beyond just the top leaders.

DETROW: It just feels like a normal part of politics...

WALSH: Right.

DETROW: ...In many ways, which is not normal.

WALSH: Right. And that may be why a lot of members have announced their retirements, especially towards the end of this year.

DETROW: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh and Claudia Grisales. Both cover Congress for us. Thank you so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Scott.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Deirdre Walsh
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.