Before President Biden spoke in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, Vice President Kamala Harris opened her address by invoking Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attacks, saying the Capitol riot had taken its place alongside the two dates that killed thousands of Americans and launched wars.
“Certain dates echo throughout history,” Harris said. “Including dates that instantly remind all who have lived them where they were and what they were doing when our democracy came under assault. Dates that occupy not only a place on our calendar but a place in our collective memory. Dec. 7, 1941, Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 6, 2021.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki backed Harris’ rhetoric during her briefing on Thursday, saying that even in prior moments of crisis, there was never before a presence of Confederate flags in the Capitol until the day of the riot, when pro-Trump supporters stormed the building in anger over certification of Biden’s 2020 victory.
Biden didn’t invoke 9/11 in his speech, but he received media accolades for his most strident language yet against former President Trump, never naming him but savaging the “former president” for spreading a “web of lies” and stoking a mob last year that disrupted Biden’s election certification. The riot has received extensive coverage on a near-daily basis in the media since, and Trump has continued to insist the 2020 election was rigged against him.
On ABC News, presidential historian Mark Updegrove compared Biden’s speech to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor address, and George W. Bush’s speech after 9/11.
“Joe Biden needed to deliver a powerful statement about democracy today,” he said. “This was FDR after Pearl Harbor. This is Lyndon Johnson after Selma. This is George W. Bush after 9/11.”
“Think about Lincoln at Gettysburg,” he said later. “Lincoln went back to that hallowed battleground, and he talked about what it all meant … He did so masterfully. That’s the kind of speech that Biden had to make today.”
ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, in an appearance on “Good Morning America,” likened being around the Capitol a year after the riot as being around the Pentagon after it was hit by one of the hijacked airliners.
“You walk around that building, and it felt much to me like returning to the Pentagon after 9/11. Obviously, the loss of life was much, much greater there, but it was an assault on our nation and that’s what you see when you’re still inside that building, and those people who worked there will feel that for a very long time,” she said.
Historian Douglas Brinkley not only invoked 9/11, he brought up the Holocaust in a speech on MSNBC Thursday.
“We have film footage of what happened on January 6, we have proof,” he said. “Dwight Eisenhower, during World War II made sure all the Holocaust camps were filmed. So, we’ve got the film footage. So, now we’re combating conspiracy theorists, deniers, and some Trumpateers. But my worry is what do we call this and make sure honor this day, this dark stained day every year. So, we’ve got to keep saying January 6. I think it is like December 7 Pearl Harbor, it is like the 9/11 tragedy, and we also need to not be afraid to call it the Trump Insurrection of January 6.”
In a sympathetic interview with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., CBS anchor Tony Dokoupil pointed to 9/11 as a day that had united the country, while after the riot, the nation had “drifted further apart.”
“I was in Washington, D.C., on 9/11, and I remember the aftermath of that terrible day was one where we came together as a country. In the aftermath of this terrible day, we have, if anything, drifted further apart. How do you change that?” he asked Schumer.
Schumer said Trump continued to sow mistrust in the democratic process and pivoted to attacking Republican voting laws, which Democrats are seeking to overhaul through sprawling federal election bills.
“I am worried,” Schumer said.
“It’s a worry I share,” Dokoupil said.
It wasn’t just Thursday that such comparisons were made in the media and among politicians. Over the past year, Democratic lawmakers repeatedly intoned they wanted a “9/11-style” commission to investigate the Capitol attack. Left-wing pundit Matthew Dowd argued the riot was worse because it divided the country. Lincoln Project co-founder and Democratic strategist Steve Schmidt said not only that Dowd was right, but that the riot was worse because it would end up leading to a greater loss of life.
Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by Capitol police inside the building on the day of the riot, while two others in the melee died of natural causes and one of a drug overdose. Capitol policeman Brian Sicknick died the following day after multiple strokes, although Washington’s chief medical examiner said his sparring with the violent mob played a role in his condition.