KLOBUCHAR: “Recognizing the sacrifice of those heroes to defend our democracy is the least we can do.”
KLOBUCHAR: “It is on us, when we take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, no matter what party we're in, to hold our democracy dear. It is a precious, precious thing.”
WASHINGTON – Today on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, honored the law enforcement officers and support staff who responded to the January 6th insurrection one year ago and called for urgent action to strengthen our democracy.
“It is on us, when we take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, no matter what party we're in, to hold our democracy dear. It is a precious, precious thing, and it is very fragile, and it is in our hands to protect, just as our police officers protected it on January 6th.”
Klobuchar and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in a series of floor speeches today.
As the lead Democrat on the Rules Committee, which has oversight of federal elections, Klobuchar was one of two Senators receiving each state’s electoral votes during the Joint Session of Congress on the day of the attack. Over the last year, she has introduced legislation, which has become law, and held oversight hearings on improvements to Capitol Police policies and procedures to protect the Capitol. She and Rules Committee Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO) partnered with leaders of the Homeland Security Committee to investigate and issue a bipartisan report with findings and recommendations on the security, preparedness, and response failures exposed during the insurrection. Klobuchar also led bipartisan legislation in the Senate to honor the law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol with the Congressional Gold Medal. This legislation unanimously passed Congress and was signed by the President in August.
Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Senator Schumer, for your leadership and your work and your words today. As I stand here, I look at the faces of the staff, I remember the moment when we were pushed out of this chamber for security reasons. I remember the words of one staff member who yelled out, “Take the boxes. Take the boxes.” She was talking about the mahogany boxes that were filled with the electoral ballots, because we knew they would be destroyed if they were left behind.
I remember my own staff, one of them is here today, hearing their stories of being in a closet, hiding in a closet with only forks that happened to be next door, to protect themselves, right next to the doors where the insurrectionists had invaded. I remember the staff throughout this building that were marooned in places, and the faces of the police officers, the cuts on their faces, the anguish and the words of Officer Dunn, who said at the end of the day that he had been called the "N-word” multiple times, and that he looked at his friend as they collapsed in the rotunda and said, “Is this America? Is this America?” The haunting words of the police officer on the police radio that was heard broadcast in the middle of the whole thing – “Is there a plan? Is there a plan?”
There were many breakdowns that day, but the biggest breakdown was the breakdown of our democracy, that some people actually felt that they could take the law into their own hands, that they could invade, not just a building but our very republic. I look back at the words and the speeches that people gave that day, not only after the insurrection, but what was telling was what they said before it started. And I think I would urge people to look at those speeches, that discussion that we were having about this had been raging for weeks and for months.
I remember standing at this very place, right before we closed down the Senate, because of the insurrection, and going through the facts, going through the facts about how President-elect Biden, at the time, had won more votes than any president in history. The facts that ten living Defense Secretaries had actually stood up at the time, including both of Donald Trump's Defense Secretaries, including people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and William Cohen, and came together and said that the scurrilous attacks on our democracy must stop, and we must allow for the peaceful transition of power.
And then I looked at the very end of my remarks, and I ended with this, right before we were invaded – I said this: my friend Roy Blunt – who I still have immense respect for, for what he did that evening – my friend Roy Blunt, my fellow Rules Committee leader, many years ago found a statue, a bust of a man at the top of a bookcase. He did research. He went to the historians. And all he could find out was that no one knew who this guy was, except that he was a cleric, hence the statue is called “The Unknown Cleric.” Now, at the time the leaders in this great place thought this man important enough that they would warrant a statue for him. But today, no one knows who he is. Senator Blunt's message to school kids and senators alike that visit his office when he shows them this statue: what we do here is more important than who we are. And I ended with this: “Senators, what matters is not our futures, not our short-term destinies. What matters is our democracy's destiny, because I think many of us know that people will not know who we are 100 years from now, or 200 years from now, but what they will know is this: they will know what we did today, how we voted today, and that is more important than who we are. As someone once said, ‘It's a republic if we can keep it.’”
It's a republic if we can keep it. Those words ring more true now than they did a year ago. Because, as we know, the haunting shrieks of the police that day, the officer pinned between the doors at the hand of rioters, there were people that stood up for our republic and there were people that attacked our republic. I remember Captain Carneysha Mendoza, 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, who testified before the Rules Committee, she suffered chemical burns to her face while commanding the officers in the rotunda while they struggled to hold the doors open. Or who can forget Officer Eugene Goodman, who after saving Senator Romney from walking directly into the mob, ran by himself to take on a group of rioters with his baton and then diverted that mob away from the Senate chamber, allowing us to safely depart.
Mr. President, who can forget the image right there, where you sit on that dais, of the insurrectionists rifling through papers on people's desks, opening up their offices and desks?
Tragically, five officers who reported for duty have since passed away. Five officers. You wonder why you see sad faces today on many people in this building who were their friends. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick who died the day after the attack. Four other officers died in the days and months that followed. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers Jeffrey Smith, Gunther Hashida, and Kyle DeFreytag. Many more suffered physical injuries, and even more sustained emotional trauma from the events of that day. And we also remember, of course, Officer Billy Evans, who tragically died doing his job at his post in April.
Recognizing the sacrifice of those heroes to defend our democracy is the least we can do. Senator Blunt and I led legislation in support of our leaders honoring those who protected the Capitol on January 6th with the Congressional Gold Medal. It was an honor to stand with officers and their families in August as President Biden signed this bill into law. We have made many, many improvements to the security of the Capitol. I think it's very important for staff and officers alike and those who work there to know that. I want to thank Senator Schumer for his work in installing a new Sergeant at Arms, Karen Gibson, for the Senate. We have General Walker over in the House. And we have a new Police Chief, Chief Manger, who did an excellent job yesterday in describing the changes. We know there are many challenges ahead. Last but not least is that we do not have enough police officers right now to fill vacancies. So people are working double-shifts or working vacations. They're canceling vacations. We have over 400 openings, an experience that many police departments throughout the country have right now, but one that is very important and the Chief has committed to fill those vacancies.
What have we done, the progress? Well, we have, one, gotten new personnel in. Two, we have passed a law in this chamber and signed into law by President Biden that makes it easier for the Chief to call in the National Guard in case of emergency. We have made sure that there's operational plans in place, as there were this summer, when major events occur. One of the saddest memories of that day was the fact that 75% of the police officers asked to defend this Capitol were in plain clothes. 75%. In many cases, they had less protective gear on than the invaders of the Capitol. That has changed. No more equipment that's going to be locked on a bus that they can't access. Senator Leahy's leadership with Appropriations, Senator Shelby's leadership, we've been able to obtain more funding to get them the equipment that they need.
All of those things are important. But as Senator Schumer noted, the other piece of this is our democracy itself. And that means getting to the bottom of what happened, something that's happening right now with the House Select Committee that is working to get the facts. We would have loved to have an independent commission like the 9/11 Commission to do that, but they are doing that work over in the House. Yesterday, we heard from Attorney General Garland, who pledged to look at this at every level and to go where the facts will lead. Those were his words. Accountability at every level for what happened here is key, and it is the largest investigation we've seen in the history of America, over 700 people that have been charged. That is a big piece of this work as well, accountability.
And as Senator Schumer noted, this is also about carrying on the torch of our democracy. The voting rights legislation that we are working on right now couldn't be more important, because what was not accomplished with bear spray and bayonets has now been passed on to others to pass bills, as we've seen in Wisconsin, where a bill actually passed that would have allowed for only one ballot dropoff box in the entire city of Milwaukee. That one was vetoed by Governor Evers. Others passed in states like Georgia, in states like Texas, and across this country a concerted effort to undermine our democracy.
So, it is on us, when we take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, no matter what party we're in, to hold our democracy dear. It is a precious, precious thing, and it is very fragile, and it is in our hands to protect, just as our police officers protected it on January 6th.
When you've got 9,600 threats against members of Congress, double what it has ever been in the past, that's not a small thing. That is January 6th continued. When you have election officials that have to leave their posts because, in the words of the election official from the city of Philadelphia, that his own family was threatened, their names, their addresses, their house put out on the internet. Katie Hobbs, Secretary of State in Arizona, receiving a voicemail saying, “I'm a hunter, and I think you should be hunted.” People in rural areas, elected officials that cannot have the security that people may have in this building. That's January 6th continued. And we cannot forget our duty going forward.
I will end with that image that I will always cherish and the hope that democracy will prevail at 3:30 in the morning, when Senator Blunt and I and Vice President Pence took that long walk over to the House with the two young women with the mahogany box filled with the last of the electoral ballots, up through Wyoming. There was broken glass on all sides. There was spray paint on statues. It was the same walk we had taken in the morning, which had been so joyful, the celebration of our democracy. So ceremonial. And there we were, the last ones left, taking that walk into the House Chambers where we finished our job. So when I look back at that day, that is the lasting image, that in the end democracy prevailed, that two weeks later there we were, under that beautiful blue sky with leaders of both parties on that inaugural stage, saying that, yes, our democracy stood tall. It brushed itself off and we moved forward as one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all, as we always do. And that is the spirit with which we must go forward in the coming weeks, as we debate the importance and the importance of keeping that democracy strong with election laws, that we continue to improve the security in this Capitol, and that we hold the people that did this not just to us, not just to this building, but to our very republic accountable for what they did. Thank you, Mr. President, and I yield the floor.
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