By John Micek
On Jan. 6, 2021, Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle was at his desk at the Longworth House Office Building, near the U.S. Capitol, when he heard an enraged mob, fueled by a former president’s false claims of fraud, making its way up Independence Avenue.
Boyle and other Pennsylvania lawmakers had been asked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to craft remarks defending against Republican attacks on the Keystone State’s election results.
And, “as I’m finishing my speech about … the miracle of Philadelphia in 1776 and 1787, and quoting [President] John Adams that democracy dies by suicide, I’m increasingly aware of the crowd that’s basically outside my window,” Boyle said in a recent interview. “It’s a surreal juxtaposition. And things went downhill quickly.”
Like millions of Americans on Jan. 6 before last, Boyle watched on television as the horrific spectacle of rioters sacking the Capitol and viciously assaulting Capitol police officers unfolded in real time.
Ultimately, the insurrectionists were frustrated in their efforts to prevent the legal certification of President Joe Biden’s victory on Election Day. But it came at a terrible cost in lives and in lasting damage to our national psyche.
And from that day to this one, former President Donald Trump, along with his Republican allies in Congress, have tried to convince their fellow citizens that the nation simply needs to move on from the worst attack on our seat of government since the War of 1812, when the British Army set fire to the Capitol, the presidential residence, and other local landmarks.
Trump, who lost, and who repeatedly failed in court to show any evidence of fraud, has sought to discredit the absolutely necessary work of a congressional panel investigating the events of that horrific day. And again, in this effort, he’s been aided by fellow Republicans.
But as was the case with the Watergate hearings a generation ago, Americans deserve to know everything they can about how and why the events of that day unfolded, and how it can be prevented from ever happening again.
And if you’re inclined to dismiss Boyle’s assertions as mere partisanship, remember that the rioters were bipartisan in their rage.
They prowled the Capitol’s halls calling for the execution of former Vice President Mike Pence, in addition to whatever violence they sought to perpetrate against such senior Democrats as Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.
While the majority-Democrat House approved a single article of impeachment charging the former president with inciting the riot, he once again evaded conviction in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
Nonetheless, a historic number of senators, seven of them, including retiring Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, did vote in favor of conviction.
Boyle said he hopes the House select committee investigating the attacks will recommend fixes that can be turned into legislation, such as reforms to the Electoral Count Act, the arcane bit of law that dictates the certification of election results, so “that one member of the House or Senate can’t subject us to what we were subjected to on Jan. 6.”
Writing in the Washington Post on the eve of the anniversary, a group of scholars, spanning the ideological spectrum, pressed the case for those reforms, arguing that the premise of any reform should be based on the assumption that “Congress is not a national recount board, or a court for litigating the outcome of presidential elections. It is not the role of Congress to revisit a state’s popular vote tally.”
But any legislative action has to be accompanied by aggressive prosecution by the Justice Department – no matter where the trail leads, Boyle said.
“Imagine if, after Watergate, the only people who were prosecuted were the five burglars,” he said. “ … Anyone, and everyone, regardless of their current or former title, all the way up to the former president, if the facts and evidence warrant it,” should be held to account, he argued.
Recent polling showing that the majority of Americans believe that democracy is under threat underscores the need for a thorough account by Congress and by the punishment of those who tried to topple the government.
“What worries me the most isn’t the Jan. 6 that’s already happened, it’s the Jan. 6 that could still happen in the future,” Boyle said.
It’s a warning. But it could well be a prophecy if justice isn’t served.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.