On Jan. 6, at the behest of the outgoing president of the United States, domestic terrorists attacked the legislative branch of the government of the United States. Bombs were left apparently targeting us, gunshots rang out, Molotov cocktails were brought to the building, and five deaths resulted from the melee on the Capitol grounds. It remains unclear who — if anyone — was in command of the military when officials were pleading for help from the National Guard, which didn't receive orders to assist for several hours. It's a miracle that the insurrection failed, that the building didn't burn and that many more people weren't killed.
At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, my colleagues and I walked past shards of glass and refuse left behind by the insurrectionist mob to resume debate on the certification of Joe Biden's victory. Some of my fellow senators said they felt that returning to the chamber and finishing the Electoral College count was a signal that America was already turning the page.
Not in my book.
In the wake of this attack, Democrats must use our majorities in Congress to pass reforms that will defend our democracy from the forces that supported, incited and fueled the riots — which means making it easier for every American to vote. Congress cannot — must not — move forward in the belief that the end of Donald Trump's presidency means all is well in our country.
After all, what happened after police cleared the Capitol building and workers began cleaning up the wreckage and blood? Republicans walked right back into the House and Senate chambers and continued spreading the same lies about voters and voting rights that had drawn the mob to the Capitol in the first place.
I'm also alarmed that ambitious men are now excusing and shifting blame for Trump's insurrection — seemingly only because it was unsuccessful.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, claimed that he just wanted an election commission to study the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania — where Biden won decisive victories. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., claimed that he was just giving voice to his constituents' concerns about election integrity by attempting to throw out the legally cast ballots of millions of Pennsylvanians. It was all nonsense.
Wednesday's phony debate about counting the Electoral College ballots was just about two elected officials laundering a violent, fanatical conspiracy — one that had already done great harm to the country and the institution in which they serve — to further their own ambitions. It was nothing more than self-promotion and a barefaced, ham-handed attempt to delegitimize the next administration.
Only a handful of Senate Republicans voted with Cruz and Hawley — but House Republicans were objectively more opposed to our functioning democracy. More than half voted against acknowledging the legal results of the presidential election. Who knows what would have happened if their numbers were a little higher or if Republicans controlled a majority in the House? Where would the transfer of power stand now if their attempt to block the recognition of the Electoral College count succeeded for more than a few hours? Would the courts have had to intervene? Would the military?
Weighing these questions, I'm alarmed — for the people of my home state of Oregon, alarmed for the children who will one day inherit our battered democracy.
In the wake of this attack, Democrats must use our majorities in Congress to pass reforms that will defend our democracy from the forces that supported, incited and fueled the riots.
I'm also alarmed that ambitious men are now excusing and shifting blame for Trump's insurrection — seemingly only because it was unsuccessful. They, or people like them, will inevitably decide that disenfranchising the opposition and embracing white nationalist populism is the optimal path to power, and a more competent person who follows that Trumpian path could be even more dangerous than Trump himself.
Disenfranchisement, particularly of Black voters, has already become routine again since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Because racist lawmakers passed laws after Reconstruction to disenfranchise Black Americans that they called Jim Crow laws, voting restrictions targeting Black Americans these days ought to be called "John Roberts laws."
And now, having seen voters help both elect Biden and send two Democrats to the Senate, Georgia Republicans are gearing up to pass a whole new raft of them.
They're aiming to put unjustifiable new limits on absentee voting, and, if some Georgia Republicans have their way, the only polling place in metro Atlanta might well be hidden somewhere in the rafters of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Other red states will surely follow Georgia's lead.
Some people will inevitably decide that disenfranchising the opposition and embracing white nationalist populism is the optimal path to power.
The good news is Democrats will soon hold the majority in the Senate — albeit an awfully slim one, and only for two years. However, having only a slim majority will not diminish our commitment to protecting American democracy and voting rights. This must be a country where everybody can vote and every vote counts.
First, we need the kind of election system that experts agree is the most secure: one that uses hand-marked paper ballots and risk-limiting audits. That's the tried-and-true system in Oregon, where we vote at home and send our ballots in by mail.
Oregon is proof that vote-by-mail elections are secure — and our state's voter participation rate is routinely among the highest in the country. I was the first senator elected in an all-mail election 25 years ago.
Voting by mail works just as well in red states, too — just ask Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah, both Republicans.
Our democracy is fragile. Democrats have an obligation to strengthen it.
I've been fighting for more than two years to pass universal vote-by-mail legislation in the Senate, where Republicans have blocked it again and again. That can't go on any longer. We saw unequivocally this time that voting by mail is secure, convenient and good for turnout. It's also among the best ways to combat racist disenfranchisement, because people opposed to your voting can't shut down your polling place if your polling place is your kitchen table.
Second, there is no longer any excuse for blocking statehood and full representation in Congress for the District of Columbia. Trump has proven in front of the whole nation that a president like him will not protect the nation's capital from violence, even if he is the only national representative they have the right to elect. He has also made it clear that the Republican objections to statehood have nothing to do with the virtue of having a "federal city." It's pure, ugly politics: They simply don't like that Washington's residents vote predominantly Democratic. Trump says it out in the open.
I'm for D.C. statehood. Denying its residents their rightful representation in Congress diminishes the rights and political power of my 4 million constituents in Oregon, it's true. But it's also a deeply shameful thing that the more than 700,000 Americans living in Washington, D.C., are forced into a lower class of citizenship.
The same goes for the American citizens in Puerto Rico. If statehood is what they want, they should be able to make that choice. The way Trump and Republicans have treated Puerto Rico — particularly when its residents have suffered so much — is revolting.
Unless there's a grassroots mobilization, it will be a challenge to get significant Republican support for these proposals. But the alternative is to proceed further with a dangerous status quo — one that got us a tyrant in the White House, a violent attack on the Capitol and an attempt to overturn the will of millions of voters by violence and executive fiat. Our democracy is fragile. Democrats have an obligation to strengthen it.