After months of concerns about external security threats, the fears and mistrust among Republicans and Democrats inside the Capitol are looming large, unraveling decorum that had long been a hallmark of Congress and leading members to question the motives of their colleagues.
One Democratic House member, who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely, grew emotional recalling how the behavior in recent days from Republican colleagues has resurrected a lot of terrible memories of the January attack.
Asked if they’re still concerned for their safety, the member responded: “It’s a complicated question, but the answer is yes.”
Tensions escalated this week after an Oversight Committee hearing in which several Republicans argued that the events of the insurrection had been exaggerated and Rep. Andrew Clyde, a freshman Republican from Georgia, compared the insurrection to a “normal tourist visit.”On Wednesday evening, GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, also of Georgia, confronted Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. During the incident, first reported by The Washington Post, Greene caught up with Ocasio-Cortez and began shouting at her and asking why she supposedly supports antifa, a far-left activist group, and Black Lives Matter, falsely labeling them “terrorist” groups.
The following day, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat, appeared wearing a mask that said simply “expel MTG,” arguing leadership needed to bring to the floor his resolution to expel the Georgia congresswoman from Congress because she was “a threat.”
Since the attack on the Capitol in January, security protocols inside the building have been expanded. Members now have to enter the House chamber through metal detectors, and while large portions of the external fence have come down, there is still increased security protections surrounding the building. But the repercussions of the fear provoked by the attack can’t all be seen. Members say that in the months since January 6, relationships have been fractured and trust broken.
“Thank God Republicans aren’t in charge of security here. Thank God we are in charge of it,” Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, said.
Back in January, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “the enemy is within,” referencing the rhetoric and behavior of some Republican members of Congress.
Those tensions, Democrats say, have resurfaced after Republicans ousted Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership ranks for speaking up regularly about the election lies that led to January 6.
“I am supposed to be bipartisan with a guy who is like, ‘na na na na,'” Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey said, referencing a tweet by GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina that said continued, “hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney.”
“Then you calm yourself down and say ‘that’s not all of them,’ but they did just get rid of the one leader on their side who actually stood for serious governance and is not a moderate Republican,” Malinowski said.
Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who served three tours in Iraq alongside the US military as a CIA analyst before becoming a member of Congress, reacted to the growing number of Republican lawmakers downplaying the realities of the violent insurrection on January 6.
“I’m here to work with serious people. I’m here to work with people who care about their constituents, and who actually do the hard work of banging out legislation,” the Michigan Democrat said. “Either be here to do work or pipe down.”
The fears and anger have been permeating for months, but the last several days just underscore the rawness and mistrust that still plague many lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the wake of January 6. More than 100 House Republicans voted to overturn the results of the election in key states, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who turned heads Wednesday after the vote to oust Cheney when he said, “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.”
As Republicans seek to move on from the insurrection, Democrats say not enough is being done to learn from the cost of some of the mistruths that were promoted.
Some Democrats are blanketly refusing to work closely with Republican colleagues who voted to overturn the election. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, made a decision not to let Republican Rep. Buddy Carter, a Georgia Republican, be a lead cosponsor on the prescription drug bill she was sponsoring because he had voted to invalidate the results of the election.
“We came to a decision in my office that I need to take a stand,” Dean said. “I will not lift up as a leader someone who did not vote to certify the election when that was connected to an insurrection.”
Dean said she offered to let him be a cosponsor, but not the lead. As a result of the move, Republicans sank the bill, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer vowed to bring it back up on the floor next week.
“She wanted me to apologize for objecting to the electoral certification and I made it clear that that was not going to happen,” Carter told reporters earlier this week. “There’s a lot of good legislation out there that needs to be passed, but we have got to put the past behind us and we’ve got to move forward and look to the future.”
But what happened between Carter and Dean is not a one-off.
Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who voted to certify the 2020 presidential election, said he has been fielding calls from Democrats who don’t want to work with Republicans who objected to certifying the election.
“Oh yeah, it is,” the Nebraska Republican told CNN when asked if he finds it hard for lawmakers to work together. “I’ve tried to mediate.”
Even though he thinks this kind of division is “just not right,” Bacon added that it’s gotten so extreme that he knows of certain lawmakers who won’t even ride the elevator with their colleagues who voted against certifying the election.
Democrats say they are worried about the lack of professionalism.
Asked for her reaction to the incident between Greene and Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi told reporters Thursday, “it’s so beyond the pale of anything that is in keeping with bringing honor to the House or not bringing dishonor to the House.”
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