For Dems, Jan. 6 narrative offers tool to target election skeptics, push voting rule changes
Biden, Harris, others blasting those questioning 2020 outcome while seeking to upend election laws
A year after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Democrats are targeting not just those involved in the breach but also, more broadly, those who questioned and protested the 2020 election process en masse, including them among those complicit in what President Biden and like-minded allies have deemed an insurrection and existential threat to American democracy.
Democrats have also seized the opportunity to push their proposed changes to the nation's voting laws — changes which, according to critics, would federalize election procedures, usurping powers assigned to state legislatures by the Constitution.
President Biden on Thursday devoted much of his speech marking the anniversary of the Capitol breach to castigating former President Trump and his supporters who questioned the results of the 2020 election. In his remarks, Biden described those who stormed the Capitol and those who protested the election outcome as one and the same, framing the Jan. 6 riot as part of the broader effort to challenge the election.
"The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election," Biden said of Trump. "He's done so because he values power over principle."
Biden repeatedly referenced the "Big Lie" that the presidential election was stolen from Trump due to voter fraud and irregularities.
"The former president's supporters are trying to rewrite history," Biden said. "They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection and the riot that took place there on January 6th as a true expression of the will of the people."
Biden defined this divide as a battle between democracy and autocracy for the future of the country.
"We must decide: What kind of nation are we going to be?" he asked. "Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people?"
Across the country, Democrats and some Republicans have refused to cooperate with ongoing efforts to investigate voter fraud and promote the integrity of future elections, lambasting such efforts as antidemocratic campaigns to overturn the 2020 election.
Days before Biden's speech, the New York Times editorial board similarly conflated the Capitol rioters with those filing lawsuits either to challenge the 2020 election or to protect against voter fraud, writing, "Thus the Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court."
Meanwhile, Democrats have launched a campaign ahead of the 2022 midterm elections to label and disqualify Republicans who supported efforts to challenge the 2020 election as insurrectionists.
This effort is being led by Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic attorney who oversaw, on behalf of the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party, the state-by-state response to 2020 election lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign.
Elias previously served as general counsel for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. In that capacity, he hired the opposition researchers who commissioned the debunked "Steele dossier" alleging a Trump campaign conspiracy to collude with Russia to steal the 2016 election.
For months, he's been pushing to use a provision of the 14th Amendment designed to disqualify anyone who "shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion ... or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof" from federal office.
The FBI has been unable to find evidence that the Jan. 6 riot was a coordinated insurrection, despite months of investigating the matter.
Still, some Democrats in Congress last year called for the disqualification of dozens of Republicans. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), for example, sought the disqualification of 120 House Republicans for signing a legal brief supporting an election challenge from Texas.
At the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has obstructed congressional efforts to investigate the security vulnerabilities exposed by the Capitol riot, according to a recent letter by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.).
Davis accused Democrats of weaponizing the events of Jan. 6 for political purposes to attack Republicans, who he said were focusing on investigating the Capitol riot to ensure something like it doesn't happen again.
Beyond lawmakers, liberal nonprofits are also pushing to disqualify candidates by defining officials who supported legal challenges to the 2020 election results as insurrectionists.
"We are urging election officials to make clear that insurrectionists such as President Trump and his congressional allies are barred from ever again holding public office, as is required under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution," advocacy groups Free Speech for People and Our Revolution said in a statement.
Jonathan Turley, a liberal law professor at George Washington University, said such efforts are "like burning books in the name of literacy."
"Nothing says democracy like preventing people from running for office," he quipped.
In addition to expanding the insurrectionist label beyond those who breached the Capitol, Democrats have also used their Jan. 6 narrative to push their election reform agenda.
Supporters say the proposals, such as implementing universal mail-in voting and weakening voter ID requirements, are meant to expand access to voting. Critics argue they create more opportunities for fraud and would federalize election rules. The Constitution primarily gives state legislatures, not the federal government, the power to create and enforce their own election procedures.
In remarks on Thursday marking the Jan. 6 anniversary, Vice President Kamala Harris said the Capitol breach will either be remembered as "a moment that accelerated the unraveling of the oldest, greatest democracy in the world or a moment when we decided to secure and strengthen our democracy for generations to come."
This is a test, according to Harris, and to answer that test Americans must uphold the right to vote and ensure free and fair elections.
"Let's be clear: We must pass the voting rights bills that are now before the Senate, and the American people must also do something more," Harris said. "We cannot sit on the sidelines. We must unite in defense of our democracy."
Biden also focused on election laws in his speech, rebuking Republican efforts to combat voter fraud as efforts to stop people from voting.
"Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written," Biden said. "Not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it, not to strengthen or protect our democracy, but because the former president lost.
"Instead of looking at election results from 2020 and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes, the former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections.
"It's wrong. It's undemocratic. And, frankly, it's un-American."
Harris's and Biden's remarks came after Politico reported Democrats planned to use the Jan. 6 anniversary to push their campaign to change the nation's voting laws and even Senate rules.
"Democrats are hoping that Thursday will be more than just a day of remembrance," according to Politico. "In the Senate, we hear from well-positioned sources, there's a desire to take the opportunity to supercharge the party's long-stalled voting rights legislation — possibly even using the anniversary to try to get Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to go nuclear on the filibuster or embrace rules changes."
The filibuster effectively requires 60 votes, rather than a simple majority of 51, to pass legislation in the Senate. Many Democrats, including Biden, have expressed support for eliminating the filibuster in order to pass more of their agenda while they control both chambers of Congress and the White House.
Some conservative commentators see Democrats' approach to Jan. 6 as political opportunism. "Jan. 6, to opportunistic Democrats, is the all-purpose excuse to use the entire weight of their party to push for a radical revision of Senate rules and federal elections," wrote Ben Shapiro.
Democrats counter they have no ulterior motive, arguing what happened on Jan. 6 last year was akin to the worst tragedies in the history of the country.
"Certain dates echo throughout history, including dates that instantly remind all who have lived through them — where they were and what they were doing when our democracy came under assault," Harris said Thursday. "Dates that occupy not only a place on our calendars, but a place in our collective memory. Dec. 7, 1941. Sept. 11, 2001. And Jan. 6, 2021."