Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell marked the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by criticizing his Democratic colleagues and making no mention of former President Donald Trump—the man he blamed for the riot last year.
McConnell issued a statement Thursday morning that sidestepped Trump’s ongoing attacks on democracy one year after pro-Trump rioters besieged the Capitol, threatened the democratic transition of power, wounded more than 140 police officers, and forced him and other members of Congress into hiding.
And unlike a year ago, when McConnell berated Trump for his actions, he used his Jan. 6 anniversary statement to attack Democrats.
“It is especially jaw-dropping to hear some Senate Democrats invoke the mob’s attempt to disrupt our country’s norms, rules, and institutions as a justification to discard our norms, rules, and institutions themselves,” McConnell said while blasting Democrats for attempting to change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation.
“A year ago today, the Senate did not bend or break. We stuck together, stood strong, gaveled back in, and did our job. Senators should not be trying to exploit this anniversary to damage the Senate in a different way from within,” McConnell continued.
McConnell’s Thursday decision not to criticize Trump—and instead focus on Democrats’ attempts to pass voting rights legislation—is a far cry from his remarks at the conclusion of Trump’s second impeachment trial last February. Back then, McConnell directly blamed Trump for causing the riot and blasted him for standing by for hours on Jan. 6 rather than stepping in to stop his supporters as they tore through Congress.
“Former President Trump's actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said then. “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.”
McConnell’s decision to vote against removing Trump from office, a move that would have led to him being barred from running again, preserved Trump’s chances at a comeback—if McConnell had backed impeachment, enough other Republicans likely would have gone along. But his speech that day put a target on McConnell’s back. Trump has been pushing for months to force McConnell from power, nicknaming him “old crow” in statements and backing GOP Senate candidates who have vowed to support someone else for Senate leadership.
McConnell has responded with icy silence—and an ongoing attempt to move past Jan. 6, even as Trump and many others in his party continue to push lies that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump.
Most notably, McConnell was instrumental in blocking the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral blue-ribbon Congressional commission to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 riot, even after Republicans had gotten almost all of what they wanted in ensuring it would be a balanced effort. His decision to oppose that commission killed Congress’s best chance at an investigation that could have been taken seriously across the political spectrum. The House responded with a Select Committee of its own, where two Republicans have joined Democrats to give it the patina of bipartisanship as they investigate the riot’s causes and determine who’s to blame.
In McConnell’s view, judging by his statement, Democrats have looked to score political points from last year’s tragedy. Democrats have renewed their efforts to pass voting rights legislation in recent weeks as the anniversary approached and have repeatedly tied the anniversary of the Capitol riot to the legislation, the details of which are opposed by even some Republicans who have been unequivocally critical of Trump’s lies about 2020. For instance, Vice President Kamala Harris brought up the legislation during her remarks marking the Jan. 6 anniversary on Thursday.
“We must pass voting rights bills that are now before the Senate,” Harris said during her speech at the Capitol commemorating the attacks on Thursday morning.
But a year after Trump supporters violently overran Congress, and nearly a year since McConnell excoriated him while voting against removing Trump from office in his impeachment trial, McConnell’s decision to avoid antagonizing Trump shows which man wields more power in today’s GOP.
Since surviving his second impeachment trial, Trump has spent the last year doubling down on his election lies while painting the 2020 election itself, not the Jan. 6 riot, as the “real insurrection.” Polls show Trump remains the early front-runner to be the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
McConnell now has to live with the consequences of allowing Trump to remain his party’s most powerful force.