WASHINGTON — In the hours after the attack on the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed united as they spoke on the House floor.
The Democratic and Republican lawmakers vowed to defy the insurrectionist mob’s attempt to block certification of the presidential election results. The Californians hinted that the trauma of the day could help bridge the partisan divide in Congress. They even agreed that President Donald Trump — through actions or inaction — bore significant responsibility for the Capitol riot.
But over the last year, a chasm has grown between the two leaders over how to move forward from the attack and how to hold those responsible accountable. It is a divide that reflects a larger split in America, as more people inside and outside of Washington seek to write and rewrite the history of last Jan. 6.
Through a second impeachment and the House select committee investigation, Pelosi has focused on Trump, his allies and those who attempted to overturn the election results. McCarthy, meanwhile, has sought to block the Democratic-led investigations and increasingly backed away from his early criticism of the former president, looking instead to shift the blame and connect the attack to broader civil unrest in the country.
As the congressional investigation searches for answers about why the Jan. 6 attack happened, most Republican lawmakers dismiss it as a partisan effort to reopen political wounds and smear their party.
Underlying it all is the lie the former president and his allies first began seeding in the months leading up to his loss in November 2020: that the election was illegitimate.
Below is a timeline of the nation’s yearlong journey, as told through the words of Pelosi and McCarthy.
Jan. 6, 12:17 p.m.
President Trump holds a “Save America” rally at the Ellipse outside the White House, near the Washington Monument. He tells supporters he will join them in walking to the Capitol.
Trump:”And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and -women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Jan. 6, 12:53 p.m.
Trump supporters begin to attack the Capitol, breaking through barricades and windows and disrupting the certification of the presidential election results. Pelosi issues a statement urging Trump to help end the attack, while McCarthy calls Trump directly.
McCarthy: “I condemn any of this. This is appalling. This is un-American. This should never happen in our nation, and whatever is going on right now needs to stop. … They broke windows, they overran the building. We had to stop our proceedings in the middle of it. As a nation I know we sit back and we’re appalled by what we’re seeing. But I want everybody to take a deep breath and understand that we all have some responsibility here.”
Jan. 6, 4:17 p.m.
Following calls from McCarthy, White House aides and conservative media hosts urging Trump to act, the president releases a video on Twitter telling his followers to go home. In the tweet, he reiterates false claims that the election was stolen. “I know how you feel,” he tells his followers rioting at the Capitol. “We love you, you’re very special … go home in peace.” Within days the president will be banned or suspended from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Jan. 6, 8:06 p.m.
Congress reconvenes to complete the counting of electoral votes.
Pelosi:”Our purpose will be accomplished. We must and we will show to the country, and indeed to the world, that we will not be diverted from our duty, that we will respect our responsibility to the Constitution and to the American people.”
McCarthy: “We will not falter, we will not bend and we will not shrink from our duty. Let me be very clear: Mobs don’t rule America; laws rule America. It was true when our cities were burning this summer, and it’s true now.”
Democratic leaders urge Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and declare the president unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.
Pelosi: “In calling for this seditious act, the president has committed an unspeakable assault on our nation and our people. I joined the Senate Democratic leader in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment. If the vice president and Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.”
The House votes 232 to 197 to impeach President Trump for the second time, one day after passing a resolution calling on Pence to mobilize the Cabinet to activate the 25th Amendment. McCarthy calls for a censure instead.
Pelosi: “Our country is divided. We all know that. There are lies abroad in the land, spread by a desperate president who feels his power slipping away. We know that too. But I know this as well, that we here in this House have a sacred obligation to stand for truth, to stand up for the Constitution, to stand as guardians of the republic.”
McCarthy: “Some say the riots were cause by antifa. There’s absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say it. … Most Americans want neither inaction nor retribution. They want durable, bipartisan justice. That path is still available, but it is not the path we are on today. That doesn’t mean the president is free from fault. The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
During back-to-back news conferences, reporters ask McCarthy if President Trump “provoked” rioters to go to the Capitol, and ask Pelosi if impeachment would undercut unity.
McCarthy: “I don’t believe he provoked if you listened to what he said at the rally.”
Pelosi: “The fact is, the president of the United States committed an act of incitement of insurrection. I don’t think it’s very unifying to say, ‘Oh, let’s just forget it and move on.’ That’s not how you unify. Joe Biden said it beautifully: If you’re going to unite, you must remember.”
McCarthy meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach while fundraising in Florida. Weeks later, he defends the meeting, saying: “I can talk to anyone.”
McCarthy: “Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022. … A united conservative movement will strengthen the bonds of our citizens and uphold the freedoms our country was founded on.”
The impeachment trial of former President Trump begins in the Senate.
The Senate votes to acquit Trump, 57 to 43. Seven Republican senators vote with Democrats, but the chamber fails to reach the required two-thirds majority to convict.
McCarthy is asked about his Jan. 6 phone call with Trump during a Fox News interview. He defends Trump’s response on the day of the attack.
McCarthy: “I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on. He didn’t see it. What he ended the call [with] was saying — telling me, he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.”
As McCarthy leaves a meeting with Pelosi and President Biden at the White House, he’s asked whether he has concerns about replacing Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming with Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York in the GOP leadership considering Stefanik has cast doubts on the election results.
McCarthy: “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today.”
Rep. Andrew S. Clyde, a Georgia Republican, says during a House Oversight Committee meeting that TV footage of the Capitol attack looked like “a normal tourist visit.”
Pelosi: “Well, I don’t know on a normal day around here where people are threatening to hang the vice president of the United States or shoot the speaker in the forehead. … The denial about what happened that day, denial for the need for more security to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and the denial of finding the truth is what we have to deal with.”
The House votes to form a 9/11-style independent commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection. McCarthy joins most Republicans in voting no, arguing that the commission should be free to investigate political violence more broadly and that other government groups are engaged in similar work. The commission dies in the Senate.
McCarthy: “Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation.”
Pelosi: “In the interest of bipartisanship, we yielded on many points, which we thought would be important. … We wouldn’t budge on the purpose: to examine what happened on Jan. 6.”
A day before Pelosi announces a House select committee to investigate Jan. 6, McCarthy again argues the scope of the investigation should be broader.
McCarthy: “I have real concern, though, especially the scope of where we’re going to go. … Just like in [the 9/11 independent commission], they didn’t just study what happened [on] 9/11, they studied what built up to it. So why wouldn’t we study what built up in the summer? Why wouldn’t we analyze and get to the bottom of why the National Guard were not here? Did things that happened in the summer prevent people from bringing the National Guard here earlier? Did the speaker make some comments in regard to that? I think those are the things that all should come forward.”
The House votes 222 to 190 to form a select committee to investigate the insurrection. Just two Republicans vote in favor.
Pelosi: “Every member here knows that Jan. 6 was an attempt to subvert our democracy, but many across the aisle refuse to admit the truth…. They refused to admit the truth when they called that day a ‘normal tourist visit.’ And today, when many will vote against establishing a select committee to investigate that day, they will again refuse to admit this truth.”
Pelosi announces that she will block two of McCarthy’s appointees to the select committee, both staunch Trump allies who voted against certifying Biden’s election. McCarthy then pulls all of his nominees.
Pelosi: “With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these members, I must reject the recommendations of Reps. [Jim] Banks [of Indiana] and [Jim] Jordan [of Ohio] to the select committee. The unprecedented nature of Jan. 6 demands this unprecedented decision.”
McCarthy: “This represents an egregious abuse of power and will irreparably damage this institution. … Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
As the House select committee holds its first hearing, McCarthy references the false claim that Pelosi blocked the National Guard from protecting the Capitol. As House speaker, Pelosi does not direct the the National Guard.
McCarthy: “There’s questions into the leadership within the structure of the speaker’s office, where they denied the ability to bring the National Guard here.”
The Jan. 6 committee asks 35 telecommunications and social media companies to preserve phone records and other information relevant to its investigation. McCarthy warns telecommunications companies that comply with the order: “a Republican majority will not forget.”
Trump sues the Jan. 6 committee, arguing that his White House records are protected by executive privilege.
The House votes 229 to 202 to hold Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon, who helped promote the Jan. 6 rally before the insurrection, in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the select committee to testify about his role. Following a November indictment, Bannon is set to go on trial in July 2022.
McCarthy: “Issuing an invalid subpoena weakens our power, not if somebody votes against it. [Bannon] has the right to go to the court to see if he has executive privilege or not. I don’t know if he does or not, but neither does the committee. So they’re weakening the power of Congress itself by issuing invalid subpoena.”
Pelosi is asked at a news conference about the breakdown of civility in the House.
Pelosi: “I’ll never forgive president — [the] former president of the United States and his lackeys and his bullies that he sent to the Capitol — for the trauma that was exerted on our staff. … You cannot erase that.”
With Trump’s effort to block the Jan. 6 committee’s request for his White House documents rejected by lower courts, he appeals to the Supreme Court.
Pelosi sends a letter to her Democratic colleagues about the House’s plans to observe the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack.
Pelosi: “The patriotism and courage of our Members as we prepare for this difficult day is an inspiration, for which I sincerely thank you.”
Jan. 2, 2022
McCarthy sends a letter to the House Republican caucus marking the start of 2022 and the anniversary of the Capitol attack.
McCarthy: “As we have said from the start, the actions of that day were lawless and as wrong as wrong can be. Our Capitol should never be compromised and those who broke the law deserve to face legal repercussions and full accountability. Unfortunately, one year later, the majority party seems no closer to answering the central question of how the Capitol was left so unprepared and what must be done to ensure it never happens again. Instead, they are using it as a partisan political weapon to further divide our country.”