WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a singular message for Americans and the world on the eve of the anniversary of the horrific attack on the Capitol:
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, inside the Capitol where a mob loyal to Donald Trump had laid siege, Pelosi said it’s time for the country to turn to its “better angels,” draw from history and ensure a day like Jan. 6 never happens again.
"Make no mistake, our democracy was on the brink of catastrophe," Pelosi told the AP.
“Democracy won that night," she said. "These people, because of the courageous work of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police and others, they were deterred in their action to stop the peaceful transfer of power. They lost.”
The speaker will lead Congress on Thursday in a day of remembrance at the Capitol, with President Joe Biden speaking in the morning, and historians and lawmakers sharing remembrances throughout the day — though few Republicans are expected to attend.
“This has to be a period of remembrance, of reconciliation,” Pelosi said, drawing on the example set by Abraham Lincoln.
“Lincoln said, With malice toward none, with charity toward all" as the Civil War was ending. "We have to extend the hand of friendship.”
The deadly insurrection stunned the country, and the world, as rioters ransacked the Capitol, some in hand-to-hand combat with police, after a defeated President Trump exhorted them to fight as Congress was certifying the Biden’s election.
Pelosi said no one could have imagined a U.S. president calling for an insurrection, but there’s now an “enormous civics lesson learned as to what a president is capable of,” she said.
“I think now people are alerted to the fact that there can be rogue presidents."
Republicans are mostly staying away from the remembrance events. They downplay the assault and blame Democrats for not fortifying the Capitol.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, said in a letter to colleagues that Democrats are using the anniversary “as a partisan political weapon to further divide our country.”
Pelosi, the California congresswoman, who made history 15 years ago as the first female speaker of the House — and has become one of the most powerful leaders ever to have held the gavel — said she bears “absolutely no sense of responsibility” for the current divisions in Congress, or the country.
After having twice led the House to impeach Trump, she said her message to those who assaulted the Capitol — and the millions of Americans who backed Trump and could support him again — is that they were lied to. Countless court cases and investigations have shown no evidence of voter fraud that could have tipped the election, as he claims.
“They may have thought that was right,” she said. ”But they were lied to by the president of the United States."
For that, she said, “he should be ashamed.”
Sitting beneath a portrait of George Washington, Pelosi drew heavily on the founders' vision for a country where Americans would have many differences but rely on common sense to resolve them.
She referred to Lincoln’s efforts -- insisting on constructing the dome of the Capitol despite naysayers during the Civil War -- to underscore national unity.
“We cannot shirk our responsibility. We have the power and we have the responsibility and we will live up to that to keep our country together," she said.
“Let’s hope that we never elect a president who will incite an insurrection on the Congress of the United States."
Looking back on the night of Jan. 6, once the Capitol was cleared of the mob, Pelosi said she is most proud of the decision congressional leaders made to quickly return to certify the election results.
She hopes to “soon” reopen the mostly shuttered Capitol -- a “symbol of democracy to the world,“ now closed to the public longer than any other time in its history — once the coronavirus pandemic wanes and the physician’s office signals it is safe.
Inside her offices at the Capitol, Pelosi showed the mirror that was shattered in the melee but has since been repaired, along with a door that was vandalized as the mob went searching for her, menacingly calling her name.
There is a conference room where several from her staff barricaded themselves, silent and fearful as rioters stalked outside. She had been presiding over the House, down the hall, and was hurried to a secure location.
Pelosi said while historic artifacts can be mended and replaced, she knows the emotional toll of the deadly day lingers for many.
“What I remember most about the day is something that I find most unforgiving about it, and that is the impact that it had on young people in the Capitol, my staff in particular,” she said. “What I remember the most, and will never forget, is the trauma that I saw in the eyes of the young people who were present for that violence.”
Biden has suggested that one way to bolster democracy at home and around the world is to show that America's government can work, though his agenda has stalled in the Senate.
Pelosi agrees and said she expects Congress to finish up Biden’s “Build Back Better Act,” a package of social initiatives and climate change strategies, and send it to the president’s desk ”this year.”
And she said the election-law and voting rights legislation now stuck in the Senate is “probably the most important legislation that we can pass.”
She said of Biden: “I think he’s a great unifier. I think the times have found him and that he’s the right person for the right job at this time,."
As for her own plans, as many expect this may be her final term in office, Pelosi would only say she “may” run for reelection.
For now, she urged Americans to look ahead, not back.
“The future is America’s resilience, America’s greatness,” she said. “America will always prevail and that we will survive — even what we went through last year.”