January 06, 2022

Van Hollen Delivers Floor Speech on Anniversary of January 6th Insurrection

“Our great American experiment remains under as much threat today as it did a year ago”

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the anniversary of the January 6thinsurrection, the continued threat to our democracy posed by Donald Trump’s Big Lie, and the urgent need to pass voting rights legislation to protect every American’s right to the ballot box. Below are Senator Van Hollen’s remarks, which can also be viewed here.

U.S. SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): “Mr. President, I want to thank my colleague from Colorado for reminding us of how important it is for us to come together as Americans to protect our communities and to protect our country, and that’s really why we’re all here today on the floor of the Senate. Because one year ago today we witnessed a violent attack on this Capitol and on our democracy itself. It was not a sneak attack by a foreign power – like Pearl Harbor. It was not an attack by a foreign terrorist group – like 9/11. It was an attack from within. And it was orchestrated and instigated by the former President of the United States. One year later, while we have improved the physical security of this Capitol, we have not secured our democracy. Our great American experiment remains under as much threat today as it did a year ago. And we, as Americans, have a duty to come together to take action to protect it. 

“The violent mob unleashed by Donald Trump a year ago stormed and sacked this Capitol. Insurrectionists scaled the ramparts, tore through the barricades, and breached this building. They used flagpoles to beat Officer Michael Fanone and used chemical spray to assault Officer Brian Sicknick – who tragically died the next day. A gallows was built outside of this Capitol while rioters chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” Like many others, I recall watching horrifying television footage of a rioter pulling down an American flag and raising up a Trump flag in its place. Confederate flags and banners of far-right extremist groups were paraded through these halls. This citadel of our democracy was violently attacked. The Capitol Hill community was traumatized and so was the country. 

“But in that dark hour – when our democracy was under attack – members of the U.S. Capitol Police, of the National Guard, and the D.C. Metropolitan Police stepped up and answered the call. There were many stories of bravery from that day, but I want to draw attention to Officer Eugene Goodman, a Marylander who protected our democracy by diverting the mob away from this Senate chamber. His actions on January 6th saved lives, and Maryland is proud to call him one of our own. It’s because of the courage of Officer Goodman, his fellow officers, and many other heroes that the mob was ultimately forced to retreat and the Senate and the House were able to reconvene to finish the certification of the electoral count. 

“Mr. President, that was the job that we had all come here to do on January 6th 2021 – and that was the job that the rioters had tried to stop. They were driven to violence by Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and they were hell-bent on answering his call to overturn the results of that election and overturn the will of the American people. They failed in that effort. On that day all of us were determined not to leave this place until we got the job done and certified the vote. And that’s what we did. 

“And when we returned to this Senate floor after the attack on our Capitol, I really believed for those few hours that most members of this Senate appreciated the gravity of the moment we had just lived through. I had real hope that all of us – regardless of party or politics – felt the weight of history upon us. I had hope that most of us grasped the idea that the machinery of our democracy does not operate automatically. It is not self-executing. That institutions are ultimately only as strong as the people who safeguard them. That it is up to each and every one of us to nurture and protect our democracy. That we are the current stewards of our republic’s tradition of the peaceful transfer of power. Mr. President, I really believed that night that that was a shared belief in this Senate. 

“In my remarks when we returned that evening, I described the attack as a ‘wake up call to the country’ for all of us as Americans. That day showed us exactly what can happen when we fail to come together – not as Republicans or Democrats – but as Americans to stand up for the truth, to stand up for our democracy, and to stand up against lies that undermine public confidence and faith in our elections. That day showed us in a violent and undeniable way that if we allowed the poison of the Big Lie to continue to spread, our democracy would continue to be under threat.

“I hoped we would heed the warning of that horrible day. And I was pleased to work with colleagues here – including the Senator from Minnesota and others – to help fortify the physical security of our Capitol building. We delivered additional resources to the Capitol Police. We selected a new Sergeant-at-Arms and a new Chief of the Capitol Police. And we are continuing to implement the other key recommendations that have been made to strengthen the security of Capitol Hill. 

“But, Mr. President, while we are improving the physical security here on Capitol Hill, we are failing in our larger duty to the American people. We have failed to stop the spread of the Big Lie and its corrosive impact on the confidence in our democracy. We know that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in a free and fair election, and yet too many of our Republican colleagues put political convenience ahead of country and ahead of our Constitution. Too many are afraid to state the facts and tell the American people the simple truth. And because of that fundamental failure, the Big Lie has metastasized and represents a clear and present danger to the democratic process throughout the country. When the violent mob failed to overturn the election results in this chamber a year ago today, the Big Lie did not end. It materialized in other forms to undermine our democracy.

“As we speak, Republican-controlled state legislatures, fueled by the Big Lie, are passing laws making it harder for people to vote – especially people of color, people with disabilities, and younger voters. In addition to putting up barriers to voting, proponents of the Big Lie are stripping power from election officials who dared to challenge Donald Trump’s plot to falsely claim victory in the 2020 election.

“The Georgia General Assembly removed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as Head of the State Election Board after he denied Trump’s request to ‘find 11,780 votes’ – the exact number he needed to defeat Joe Biden in Georgia. It was not enough that Raffensberger, a loyal Republican, had voted for Donald Trump. His offense was failure to implement the Big Lie. In Michigan, Republicans are moving to saturate election boards with Big Lie loyalists in an effort to control the counting of ballots. And across the country, other laws are being passed at the state level that would authorize partisan officials to change or overturn the results of elections even after votes have been cast and counted. 

“Mr. President, what we are witnessing is an all-out, continuing assault on our democracy, and the longer we wait, the more the threat grows. The clock is ticking. Now is the time to act. 

“That’s why we must establish uniform national standards to protect access to the ballot box and ensure that our elections reflect the will of the American people – not the political wishes of any party or any one person. That is exactly what the Freedom to Vote Act does – and why we must pass it. This bill would defend every American’s right to the ballot. The Freedom to Vote Act also helps protect election officials from unfair removal and guards against attempts to tamper with or change election results. In addition, the bill contains provisions to keep our elections fair and honest, including crucial campaign finance reform and a ban on partisan gerrymandering. And the enactment of the Freedom to Vote Act should go hand-in-hand with the passage of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the full protections guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

“Mr. President, while I had hoped that action to preserve our democracy would be a bipartisan endeavor, it’s clear that our Senate Republican colleagues are not willing to join us in passing these bills. Efforts to strike a compromise have been met with virtually zero support on the other side of the aisle. Democrats are willing to move forward ourselves to protect our democracy, but our Republican colleagues have weaponized the current filibuster rule and are using it to thwart progress. They’ve even blocked our attempt to have a debate on voting rights when we raised the issue six months ago. Mr. President, those actions are undermining the very spirit, the tradition, and function of this Senate. The Senate was designed to promote vigorous and long debate while also respecting the ultimate will of a majority of Senators and a majority of the American people. Today we see the opposite: very little real debate on the Senate floor and the denial – the denial – of a majority vote to resolve the big questions of the day, resulting in the denial of the will of the American people. We can change that. We have to change that. We can change it by adapting the current rules of the Senate to restore the original intent of the Framers. We must do that for the health of our institutions and the good of our democracy.

“Mr. President, James McHenry, Maryland’s delegate to the Constitutional Convention, wrote in his diaries about a famous exchange between Elizabeth Willing Powell and Benjamin Franklin. He wrote, ‘A lady asked Dr. Franklin: Well Doctor what have we, what have we got a monarchy or a republic? A republic, replied the Doctor, if you can keep it.’

“A year ago today on this floor, I quoted this exact exchange. And now, on the one-year anniversary of January 6th, we are still met with this same question and same test of whether or not we can muster the will to do what must be done to keep our republic. There is still time. We can still repair and sustain our democracy. One year ago, we did not allow a violent mob to prevent us from staying right here to do our job. We completed the certification of the presidential election. But our job is not over. We have not finished the job of securing our democracy. Mr. President, now is the time for us to do that. Let’s come together and do what’s necessary and right for our republic, for our democracy, and for the American people.”