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C is for Capitol: What Congress did – and didn’t – do after Trump supporters attacked

Why US democracy remains under threat after rioters stormed the Capitol Building.

By Emily Tamkin

On 6 January 2021 an angry mob supporting the outgoing US president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, interrupting the certification of the presidential election result.

“You are not going to take away our Trumpy Bear!” one rioter yelled into a megaphone. “This is 1776!”

The certification of Joe Biden’s election was delayed, but not denied. Members of Congress came back and finished the job, though they did so over the objection of 147 elected Republicans.

Though the House of Representatives subsequently voted to impeach Trump for a second time, on this occasion for incitement of insurrection, the Senate did not vote to convict. If it had, Trump would have been barred from holding elected office ever again.

Meanwhile, across the country, Republican-controlled state legislatures passed laws that will make it more difficult for people to vote. Some voting rights activists and experts suggested that as Trump-aligned Republicans had failed to decertify votes – notably, those from urban areas with a high concentration of black voters, such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit – they were now trying to stop them being cast at all.

States were able to do this because, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted much of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated that states and localities with a history of discrimination had to get approval from the Department of Justice or a court before changing their voting laws. The 2013 decision determined the requirement was outdated.

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One might think, in light of this, that Congress would pass federal legislation to protect Americans’ voting rights. This has not happened, either. Republicans will not vote with Democrats on such legislation, while moderate Senate Democrats refuse to abolish the filibuster. With the filibuster in place, Democrats need 60 votes to pass such a law. At present, they have 50.

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And so despite the year beginning with an assault on the Capitol by individuals who believed their votes were more legitimate than others, Congress did not remove from politics the man who arguably pushed them there, nor did it pass legislation affirming that every eligible American has equal access to the electoral process.

C is for Capitol, attacked as part of a continuing assault on American democracy – to which the Capitol has not yet offered a rebuttal.

Find the other entries in the New Statesman A-Z of 2021 here.