NANCY CORDES: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Nancy Cordes.
The deadly insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th scarred the nation, and the pieces that led to that day are still being put together. Now, 100 days since the event, what’s left to be done and is the country prepared to prevent it from happening again?
Joining me to discuss are four reporters who cover Washington: Eugene Daniels, White House correspondent for Politico and co-author of the Politico Playbook; Anne Gearan, White House correspondent for The Washington Post; Kasie Hunt, Capitol Hill correspondent for NBC News and host of MSNBC’s Way Too Early; and Wesley Lowery, correspondent for 60 Minutes+. Welcome to all of you.
Wesley, let’s start with you. What, to your mind, is the biggest lesson that the country has learned from January 6th?
WESLEY LOWERY: Oh, I’m not sure if we’ve learned the lesson or fully internalized the lesson, but I think one of the most important lessons is to take much more seriously some of the threats that are voiced in our politics by both rogue actors and not-so-rogue actors. I think as we’ve seen and as we’ve talked to law enforcement officials, both in the Capitol and elsewhere, there’s been a lot of conversation about how what happened on January 6th was planned in public. It wasn’t that hard to know what was going to go on, and yet for many reasons or any number of reasons that threat was not seemingly taken as seriously as it should have been, and there are real consequences to that. Not just the terror that happened on that day, but as our friend and colleague at NBC Frank Thorp had a great project today looking back a hundred days, and the people who were there, and how that trauma and difficulty carries on with them – that these are not one-off incidents, but rather are incidents that really change people’s lives. And so hope is that moving forward some of these threats that come from the political right, that come from White supremacist groups, that come from supporters of the former president are hopefully taken more seriously by law enforcement.
MS. CORDES: You know, I think you’re really right, Wesley, that a lot of us who were on Capitol Hill that day felt disbelief at first that it was actually happening, but in the 100 days since that disbelief has kind of transformed into something else. Kasie, you were also on the Hill that day. You wrote a really moving piece about what it was like to be there, how this all unfolded, and how you feel about it now. Tell us how you view that day now that you’ve gotten some distance from it.
KASIE HUNT: Yeah, thanks, Nancy, and I think it’s important to underscore what Wesley said. I mean, the Capitol complex, as you know so well, is made up of so many people beyond just lawmakers and their aides. They are people who are just trying to put food on their own tables, they are working in the cafeterias, they are the Capitol Police manning all of the doors, and they were all attacked on that day. And I think for me, like you, I shared a disbelief as it was happening. I thought, frankly, as I was trying to report live on what was happening during the day, that if I had said people were breaching the Capitol, it would turn out inevitably to be wrong and I should be careful to make sure that I didn’t seem to suggest that as they were dealing with what was happening outside. And I think we all assumed that the safest place in D.C. to be – in Washington to be was the floor of the House and the Senate – in the Capitol itself, but definitely on those sacred floors – and that was completely shattered on January 6th. And I think the thing that we’re reckoning with now is people who have other motives – political motives, interests, ambitions for their own careers or their own families or for whatever reason – who are essentially trying to rewrite the history of what happened that day, who are trying to say that people were not afraid, who are trying to say that the crowd was not violent. You know, I was there, I saw what happened. I can tell the difference between what people are saying that’s true and what’s not about what happened that day. And the partisan – the speed with which we descended into partisan politicking over how to move forward has been a little bit astonishing. You know, I think you have covered the Hill for so long; they in the past have been protective of their own powers, their own prerogatives, to the point where they were actually willing to work with each other to take on the White House or to take on another entity, and in this case their very walls were breached and they can’t agree on how to even form a commission to investigate what happened. So I think the question is, is it possible to still believe in a system that aspires to be, you know, one of the best in the world – something that is representative, you know, our very democracy – with whether we’re capable of living up to those values and following through on them.
MS. CORDES: Yeah, I mean, they’re trying to rewrite history not about something that happened years ago; it happened earlier this year. We were all there. We all remember it. So, Eugene, let’s talk a little bit about this revisionism, you know, not just about who broke into the Capitol that day but what their motives were, how dangerous they were. How do you think that that kind of misinformation affects the government’s ability to address these kinds of threats going forward?
EUGENE DANIELS: It completely hampers it because one thing we know about the federal government – all of us, from covering it – is that public opinion and the way that the public feels about things is usually what pushes them to do things. And what we’ve seen is that Trump supporters, Republicans are largely seeing – you know, saying things like this happened from people who were Antifa dressed as Trump supporters, trying to trick them. They believe the lie that President Trump told that led to all of this, and that was told not just on January 6th, and that’s something that is really important to the conversation, is that it wasn’t just the day of January 6th and that speech that the then-president gave but the months and months of that lie that those people who came there on January 6th believed. And the revisionism that we’re seeing is dangerous because, one, if you are not the target of the attacks, you probably weren’t scared. So someone like Senator Ron Johnson, who said he wasn’t scared when it happened, well, he was a – he was a Trump supporter. They were looking for Mike Pence, right? They were saying they were going to hang Mike Pence. They were calling Nancy Pelosi’s name as they walked around. And then when it comes to someone like Tucker Carlson, who has talked about this kind of painting these people as not as scary, and – those people who were there – there was tactical outfits. There was – you know, they had all types of weapons. You know, they talked about not having guns, but there were bats and all types of things. And so the federal government is not going to be able to protect itself it they can’t have an actual healthy conversation, a substantive conversation, about what actually happened because this revision of – excuse me – the revisionism is happening and it’s happening only on one side of the aisle, and that part is really dangerous.
MS. CORDES: Anne, I’m wondering how you think that this single event has sort of shaped the early months of the Biden presidency. Obviously, you know, it certainly changed his inauguration, which had to contend with the fact that a massive security breach had taken place right where he was taking the oath of office just a couple of weeks earlier, but has it shifted his policy priorities as well?
ANNE GEARAN: Nancy, I would say really not a lot. I mean, the Biden administration is pretty disciplined and on message that the two most important things that they need to contend with are the pandemic, one, and the economic effects of it, two. And you know, while certainly the president and many people who work for him reference the events of January 6th fairly frequently, they have not – they’ve really tried not to focus on it. I think it is, however, something that shadows what they do in a – in a way we haven’t really talked about, which is that neither President Trump nor many of these people who believed the so-called big lie all along have ever renounced it. The people who came to the Capitol on January 6th did so because they believed that the election had been stolen from them and that Joe Biden was an illegitimate – was going to become an illegitimate president. A lot of people still believe that, and you see local candidates and House candidates running for election next year who are espousing that same idea, that – you know, running on a stop the steal platform, for example. Some of those people are going to win, and that is going to be the landscape in Congress that President Biden deals with for the second half of his first term. So, you know, this isn’t over. You asked at the beginning what the lessons are. I think we’re still learning them.
MS. CORDES: You know, one of the things that we learned this week was that D.C. Police and Capitol Police were told to intentionally hold back their response to this insurrection, to go easy on these protesters, and Wesley, you can’t help but draw comparisons to the way that Black Lives Matter protesters were treated the year before. And one thing that you said in a CBS This Morning piece this morning really haunted me, really stuck with me as we look at this broader issue of race and policing. You said that for the Black community, which is relatively small and close-knit, there is a trauma and a fear that goes along with always wondering if the next person to be shot or killed is someone you know, is a neighbor, is a friend, is a co-worker, a family member.
MR. LOWERY: Certainly, I mean, I think it – and I think it’s been very interesting. I think – you know, I was actually sat in on some focus groups of Black voters in February, and the main takeaway – you know, they, in fact, were not particularly vindictive towards the insurrectionists. They weren’t lock them up and throw away the key, but they did all say, I mean, they wouldn’t let us get near the Capitol like that, that’s insane; that if Louis Farrakhan gave a speech down the street saying let’s storm the Capitol, he wouldn’t have made it to the stairs. And so it was – and he certainly wouldn’t have gone without getting handcuffs put on him once the Capitol was ransacked. And so it is – it is remarkable to look at. I mean, the police were put in a remarkably difficult tactical scenario, I mean, and from some of the autopsies we’ve read of it, it seems like a lot of the issue was in preparation. Once you have that many people there and you haven’t cordoned it off, you’ve got some big problems and you don’t have very many options, but the thought is that other groups might not have been able to get that close in the first place. But I – but I do think that is so much of when we have these moments – we’re coming into this week where we’re going to get a verdict in the Chauvin trial one way or the other, and these moments where the entire nation hurts, but I think that sometimes we forget how some communities within our country have different experiences. They are smaller. They feel things in different ways. We were reminded of this during this spate of Asian American – anti-Asian American hate crimes, another relatively small community within our country who were feeling this in different ways. My Asian American friends didn’t want to walk outside themselves because they knew they could be targeted. I think Black Americans, each time they see one of these videos this isn’t a theoretical bad thing that has happened to someone; that’s someone who looks like the people you go to church with, who you work with, your cousin, your uncle, and it very well statistically could be. And I think that’s something that sometimes I think the broader population doesn’t fully appreciate.
MS. CORDES: And Eugene, in the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection there were all these companies that came forward and said they were not going to donate to politicians who stood by the big lie or voted to overturn the election results, and now we’re already just a few months later starting to see some of those companies renege on those promises. So why do you think they’re doing that and what does it tell us about how committed the public is and how committed companies are to holding politicians accountable?
MR. DANIELS: Yeah, I mean, the public does – you know, we have these big moments. After January 6th, it felt like there was a few – you know, a few days after that we’re all in this kind of collective shock, right? You know, Kasie was there, I had a lot of my colleagues that were there, and no one could believe that that had happened. It was shocking, but not surprising because, as Wesley pointed out, this had – the planning had happened so publicly. And so we were in these – this moment of, like, togetherness; it felt like even the Republican Party was going to start moving away from some of the big lie, moving away from then-President Trump, but then we went back right into our corners and the public started doing the same thing, right? We started to – like, we talked about getting – thinking about this differently, and that’s exactly what happens with corporations, right? They make these – they make certain promises of things they’re going to do based on what’s happening right then and there, and then as the public stops paying attention or as the public stops caring as much they kind of go back to what they’re used to, which is giving money to different types of people to get – you know, to lobby them and all of those kinds of things. And I think that’s something that has been the saddest about this whole thing, is how those – that moment where it felt like we as a country were – might be able to get back together and have a little bit of unity, that that came and went, and came and went so quickly, and at a time when desperately the only thing that could have helped – the only thing that can actually get something done in reaction to January 6th – giving some more protections, finding out what happened – would have been unity with the country, with corporations paying – you know, standing by what they said, and more importantly with members of Congress actually coming together and getting something done here.
MS. CORDES: Well, unfortunately – because I have so many more questions for all of you – I’m being told we have to leave it there for tonight, but many thanks to Eugene, Anne, Kasie, and Wesley for all of your great insights, and thank you for joining us. Make sure to sign up for our Washington Week newsletter on our website, where you’ll get an early preview of each edition of Washington Week. For now, I’m Nancy Cordes. Good night from Washington.