By Sens. Susan Collins and Jeanne Shaheen
On Aug. 24, 1814, the British seized control of the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overthrow the American government. What we witnessed last week — 207 years later — at the hands of American insurrectionists, rather than foreign troops, was a reminder of the fragility of even a democracy as strong as ours. The assault on Congress will be remembered as one of the darkest days in American history, where extremists, encouraged by the president, attempted to prevent Congress from fulfilling its constitutional duty.
A Capitol Police officer was killed and another later died by suicide. A woman was fatally shot and three others died in emergency incidents related to the attack.
It is jarring and despicable that these rioters, some of whom were draped in Confederate flags and Holocaust denial paraphernalia, defiled one of our most sacred institutions. They terrorized lawmakers, staff, reporters and law enforcement and wreaked havoc on the historic complex, leaving destruction and debris in their wake that Capitol workers are still cleaning up at an undetermined cost to taxpayers. The people who led this insurrection are not patriots or protesters — they are terrorists. They are not to be applauded or defended — they should be condemned and prosecuted.
'Against all enemies, foreign and domestic'
The attack on the Capitol is a stark warning to those who have peddled conspiracy theories and fallacies surrounding the 2020 presidential election results: If they continue to incite this behavior and refuse to condemn the president’s false allegations about the election, they are threatening our very system of government and its constitutional foundation. As members of both the Democratic and Republican parties, we are obligated to speak out against the acts of domestic terrorism committed on Jan. 6. We are calling on every lawmaker to join us because there can be no equivocation on where this legislative body stands on threats to our democratic republic.
Only a few days before the riot, newly elected and reelected senators took their oaths of office and swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Every U.S. senator must take this oath, including those whom we saw contest the results of the 2020 election. Our democracy is only as strong as our commitment to defend it. Those who continue to embolden the president’s unproven claims about the election do so to the detriment of the American people and the stability of our government. We are encouraged by the bipartisan group of lawmakers who have been fighting to stop this dangerous, political endeavor, but those who continue to reinforce the president’s false narrative deepen the divisions in our country and undermine public confidence in our government.
The images of the insurrection at the Capitol have been viewed around the world. They have flashed on the screens in fledgling democracies where we, U.S. lawmakers, have served as election monitors to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, which is the bedrock of a democracy. How shameful it is for these nations to view these scenes from our country, the beacon of democracy. It wasn’t only their watchful eyes that matter but also those of our adversaries who seek to take advantage of the polarization in our country.
Those nations and all others should also observe, however, that this insurrection did not succeed. Members of Congress reconvened that same night and affirmed the election results, as required under the Constitution. A new administration will take office on Wednesday. Those who might seek to capitalize on the division, distraction and vitriol of the partisan politics that spurred this turmoil should be reminded of the strength and resilience of this constitutional, democratic process.
Time for lawmakers to fight to preserve our democracy
We know that the results of the 2020 presidential election are valid because nearly 90 judges, including the Supreme Court justices, dismissed lawsuits alleging fraud or irregularities that would have changed the results. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the federal agency tasked with the physical and cyber security of our voting systems, found that the elections were the most secure in American history.
These are not matters of opinion, nor are they up for interpretation: They are facts. What we experienced on Capitol Hill was the culmination of months of the president making dramatic, false statements alleging widespread election fraud without evidence and without consequences, and being encouraged by some in Congress who know better. We cannot afford to allow this to continue. The continued stability of our nation is at stake. It is the duty of every lawmaker to ensure the preservation of our democracy, and especially those culpable in spreading this divisive rhetoric, to pull us back from the brink of utter chaos.