Rochester, N.Y. (WROC) — When describing the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Congress members Joe Morelle and Tom Reed both used the same word: surreal.
Though Morelle, a Democrat, and Reed, a Republican, operate on different sides of the aisle, they both condemned the attack calling it a threat to democracy.
Adam Chodak talked with both lawmakers live on air when the rioters were ransacking the building.
Adam circled back with them this week to ask them questions about that day.
Tom Reed Interview
Adam Chodak: Congressman Reed, thank you for joining us. Last time we talked about this you were actually hunkered down in an office if my memory serves me well here. You were very upset on January 6t of last year, what are your thoughts now?
Tom Reed: I reflect on January 6t like many of my fellow Americans. That was a dark day in America’s history. I never thought my tenure in Congress or as an American citizen I would experience something like that occurring right there on the Capitol grounds. I remember the details of that day, I just left the floor of the House and was walking outside like I normally do to my office and it was just surreal and I sat there with tears and I think I recall talking to you. It was emotional, it was trying and it is something we should never repeat, we should learn from.
AC: Do you think there’s a risk of this repeating? A lot of people see this and say our democracy is at risk, do you see it that way?
TR: We are such a polarized nation right now. We are so divided and the silent majority is awakening, but isn’t awake yet and what I mean by that is that the vocal minority represented by the extremes of both the Republican Party as well as the Democratic Party because the extremes are on both sides, I think it runs the risk that if we don’t wake up as a silent majority to say we can be proud Republicans, we can be proud Democrats, we can disagree, but we cannot devolve to violence and I think that is the risk we run if we don’t learn the lesson of January 6th it sure as heck to could happen again.
AC: There is no question there are extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. January 6 according to law enforcement had mainly to do with Trump supporters. Right now, I saw CBS poll that said roughly 50 percent of Republicans think what those who entered the U.S. Capitol, what they were doing was demonstrating patriotism or defending freedom. What’s your response to that?
TR: I understand that viewpoint that they’re trying to articulate. To go and storm the Capitol, the way that happened on January 6 that I lived, I was there, is something that cannot happen in America, in a democracy such as ours. So I disagree with those who say, I’ve heard them say this was tourists in the Capitol, that is not what happened on January 6. That was a group of individuals that that thought that violence and thought that going to the Capitol grounds was the right way to resolve their differences and that is not the way we do it in America and I will will be part of efforts continuing past Congress to try to bring people together and engage in the debate and say we cannot devolve into violence in any way whatsoever.
AC: A lot of people have criticized one of your fellow Congress member, Liz Cheney, saying she just can’t let go of the election and her stance on it and as you know the election was a big part of what happened on January 6. I’m wondering what you think of the possibility she might respond to that saying I’m not letting go because President Trump and his allies aren’t letting go and I can’t let silence go up against that for fear that narrative might win the day.
TR: And I respect that. I know Liz, I know Adam personally. I serve with them. I respect that they are committed to their point of view in terms of not forgetting January 6. I will disagree in regard to the January 6 commission. I was one of the 34 Republicans who voted for the bipartisan commission, but once it went down the partisan path that’s when I lost hope that there would be a true 9-11 inquisition to get to the bottom of it and the bottom line now is that I think we’re seeing partisan politics when it comes to not only the commission, but each side using January 6 to promote their extreme view on both the left and the right.
AC: Do you think it’s wrong, though, that Congresswoman Cheney continues to address this?
TR: No, I respect that. I respect her position. She’s clearly passionate on how she views January 6 and we all should want to get to the bottom of it in the sense of what caused people to think you could take to the floor of the House and the floor of the Senate your dispute with the election results of that Presidential election, that is a legitimate inquiry that needs to occur, but it needs to be done in an open and honest, bipartisan transparent manner and that’s not what is occurring. So I respect that Liz has committed herself to this process, but I would just encourage her to also be careful because you might be part of partisan politics and you’re not aware of it because you’re so close to it.
AC: Has this been difficult for you to take the stand you have on the election, on January 6, when there are a significant number of people in your party, people who voted for you who don’t agree with you on this?
TR: It’s not difficult because one of the things I’m comfortable in is I know who I am. I know what I believe in and I’m willing to stand in front of anyone, supporters and those who disagree with me and just tell them this is why I feel this way and I will tell you long-term, that has served me well and those who reject my point of view and do it in a way that’s not respectful, that’s not civil, I say, hey, we can do that, that’s your choice, but I’m going to do what I can control, I’m going to try to disagree respectfully, I’m going to try to listen to the frustration and I’m going to try to be part of the leadership that’s necessary for us to get past January 6 in a way that we can unite as a country, as one America, as people that are passionate about their differences, but respect that fact that we live in a great country that allows us to have those differences in a peaceful way.
AC: Anything else that you’d like to add Congressman that I might have missed?
TR: What I look at in particular with January 6 is the dangers of extremism. Extremism is clearly here in America and I will tell you we have adversaries outside of America, China and others, and the more we recognize that the enemy is not your fellow American. The adversary and enemy are those outside of American who want to take down our way of life and I will just tell you that is something that we need to awaken to because if we don’t unite to tackle that obstacle before it occurs I’m afraid that crisis is going to have occur before the nation wakes up again.
AC: How does that happen when you have some companies and people working to divide the country?
TR: Leadership. It all boils down to leadership. Being willing to challenge the extremes on the left and the right, not accepting the political correctness that often causes people to shy away from speaking or stepping forward, so I would just say leadership is how you avoid having us have to deal with a crisis moment and overcome it prior to the crisis moment.
Joe Morelle Interview
Adam Chodak: Congressman, a year ago you and I were talking over the phone and you were basically hiding in the U.S. Capitol. What are your thoughts a year later?
Joe Morelle: Well, I still reflect back, Adam, on that day in the sense of surrealism about what was happening around me and to my colleagues and we felt on the one hand like we were watching a movie where people were attacking the U.S. Capitol and you have to remind yourself that what is happening around you is actually happening, unthinkable things. Things that I took as article of faith, I’m sure you did growing up that whoever won the election fair and square would be named the President or all the other offices that we elect. And just the notion that there was a group, heavily intent on hurting people, there to overturn an election was just unfathomable. Looking back over the last year two things are clear to me. One, we need to continue to remember and learn from the lesson of January 6t and we need to continue to remind ourselves that we are at a fragile point in American democracy and people are, as we speak today, are trying to undermine the system that we have lived with for centuries and have relied upon and that is a chilling thought and what January 6t should do, among other things, is remind us to remain vigilant, care about and protect our democratic institutions and our Constitution.
AC: In your view, what needs to happen to do that?
JM: We need to go back to respecting election results. There was no fraud, there was no evidence of any fraud in the Presidential election and yet a substantial number of people continue to posit the argument that the election was stolen. No evidence of that whatsoever And yet a significant number of Americans believe it or at least say they believe it and I don’t know if they really do so we have to reestablish that we, on all sides, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, and Independent, it shouldn’t matter, election results have to matter. If they don’t, then we’re no better than the dictatorships we see around the world.
AC: You speak with both Democrats and Republicans, those who are in leadership roles, what are they telling you when they talk about January 6t?
JM: There are a small number of Republicans and Republican representative who really believe the lies that President Trump and people within his administration continue to this day to sell to the American public, they believe it. And then there’s the majority, I believe, of members of the House who are Republicans who don’t believe it, who think it’s beyond ridiculous and potentially dangerous, but haven’t had the courage to really speak up and are afraid of the backlash from within their own party. I have enormous respect for Liz Cheney, I think she’s a patriot, there’s a lot of things we don’t agree on policy wise, but I’ll tell you, she has demonstrated enormous courage and is dedicated to the Constitution and dedicated to the Republic, but she’s too few in number and I’m really concerned about it. When people stand silently by and allow atrocities to happen they’re essentially abetting those things that if we’re not careful will really lead to the end of the American Republic.
AC: There are those who argue it was bad, but it was in their eyes spur of the moment, the folks who went in there for the most part did not have guns or anything like that and we’re paying too much attention to this and over blowing it. What’s your response to that?
JM: Well, they attacked members of the United States Capitol Police, they did use weapons in many cases. This was, and we’re seeing more and more details come out that this was a concerted effort organized potentially by people in the White House maybe members of Congress and the evidence of that in my view which will be clear over the next several months is the number of people fighting subpoenas by Congress to find out what role they played. Honestly people should be forthcoming. There’s no executive privilege here. A former President can’t argue that a potential cover-up of a crime is protected by executive privilege. So when we see this, we will learn how much more this was really coordinated and how there was a lot of forethought about what was happening on January 6th. Is it true that some people came because they supported the President and didn’t want Congress to certify the electoral process, but had no bad intent perhaps, but there’s no question that a lot of people in positions of responsibility were actively trying to overturn the election results and were involved in treason and insurrection against the United States.
AC: My last question for you, do you suspect this will happen again?
JM: Well, I hope not from a physical point of view, but I think the thing we all need to be on guard against is the erosion of the values that we all have. In my view, one of the miracles of American democracy, John Adams turned over the keys to the White House to Thomas Jefferson, the first peaceful transfer of power in American history. We haven’t had for two centuries plus any challenge to that notion until 2020 so I hope there are no attacks in a physical way on the U.S. Capitol, but more insidious in my view, the darker alternative is that we change the rules so the voice of voters and American public is no longer the prevailing voice in American politics. Then I think we’re in a place where the American democracy simply isn’t functioning anymore and I’m fearful of that.
AC: Congressman, anything else that I might have missed?
JM: I just hope people take this very seriously. We are at a fragile point in American politics and we need patriots of all types to stand up say we’re not going to allow the foundations of our democracy to be eroded any further.