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Interview With Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL); Insurrection One Year Later. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 06, 2022 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell.

And you're watching CNN's special coverage of the one year anniversary of the Capitol siege.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

President Biden marked this day with an important speech. And it was a different speech than he usually gives, because he spoke directly about Donald Trump's danger to democracy.

Though he never mentioned Trump by name, President Biden placed the blame for the Capitol attack squarely on Trump.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We saw it with our own eyes. Rioters menaced these halls, threatening the life of the speaker of the House, literally erecting gallows to hang the vice president of the United States of America.

But what did we not see?

We didn't see a former president, who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, and the nation's Capitol under siege.

Because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country's interests and America's interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.

He can't accept he lost.

The former president and his supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection and the riot that took place here on January 6 as the true expression of the will of the people.

Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country -- to look at America? I cannot. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Now, at this very hour one year ago, thousands of Trump supporters began to storm the Capitol. Rioters broke through the barricades, and they smashed the windows, and they took on the Capitol Police officers in their way.

CAMEROTA: That mob had been revved up by Trump and his cronies and their ridiculous election lies.

As President Biden reminded the country today, the mob of Trump supporters turned medieval. They defecated in the Capitol halls. They carried a Confederate Flag and other weapons and they terrorized lawmakers and staff.

This is just one image of officers with guns drawn defending the House floor.

BLACKWELL: Now, police officers saved a lot of those members from the mob while they were dragged and beaten and sprayed with chemicals.

And one of them said today that January 6, 2021, is not over for him.


HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: This doesn't necessarily feel like an anniversary. There really hasn't been an end to January 6. So once accountability has been had, then you can start to heal, and then you can start to look forward and -- but I don't look at today as an anniversary. But it's just another day.

MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: A year out, now I'm just angry. I mean, I went through the whole Rolodex of emotions.

Now I'm just angry. And I would ask anybody who doubts the reality of January 6 to question your own motivations behind that.


CAMEROTA: CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is here with us.

So, Kaitlan, this was a very different speech for President Biden. So what went into it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's one he had worked on for several days, Alisyn and Victor, over the holidays.

This is something that President Biden and his top aides were talking about because, the speech, it's obviously largely symbolic. And I think that the White House wanted President Biden to be able to meet the moment with this.

And, yesterday, we asked Jen Psaki if the president was going to address the former president's role in the riot and what that was going to look like. But, clearly, today, that was the crux of this speech. That was really what he focused on.

And, as you said, he did not mention Donald Trump by name, but he did reference the former president 16 times in that speech, not only talking about what he did that day and what his time was like in the Oval Office, which we know, of course, consisted of watching what unfolded on the Capitol with this attack under way, but also talking about what he said about the election and the lies that he spread about his election loss and what that looked like, of course, over the course of several months and in the year since that attack first happened.


And I do think it's so notable, though, to say that the current president was in Statuary Hall, where those rioters were roaming freely a year ago today, in there with the presidential seal in front of him, essentially calling his predecessor a liar.


BIDEN: He built his lie over months. It wasn't based on any facts. He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth.

He's not just a former president. He's a defeated former president, defeated by a margin of over seven million of your votes, in a full and free and fair election.

There is simply zero proof the election results were inaccurate.


COLLINS: Now, President Biden said what we have reported, which is this isn't a fight he sought. This isn't really a speech he wanted to give. But he said it's not what he was going to shy away from.

And that's why he was so forceful in his condemnation of the former president today during that speech. And when he was asked why he didn't name him directly, he said, it's not because it's this political battle of Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump, but it's about something bigger than that, talking about this attack on democracy and, of course, the legitimacy of the election.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan Collins really interesting to know all that. Thank you.

So, a few minutes from now, members of Congress will publicly reflect on the attack that they survived one year ago.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Manu Raju was inside the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and was one of the first to report about the breach.



MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right outside the Capitol, there are scores of protesters outside this building right now. And we have been told by Capitol Police that the Capitol is in lockdown, and that people cannot leave the building.

Wolf, this is something I have never seen in my time covering Capitol Hill, that protesters have actually breached not just the building, but have come inside the building.


BLACKWELL: And Manu is live at the Capitol now.

That first report was almost a year ago to the minute, Manu, that you were reporting on people getting into the building. There was a moment of silence today to mark what happened a year ago and a remarkable moment on the floor.

Tell us about it.

RAJU: Yes, that's right.

There were just two Republicans on the House floor just moments ago when Nancy Pelosi opened it up to have that moment of silence to remember what happened on that harrowing day, those two Republicans, Liz Cheney, of course, the person who was involved in the investigation about what happened on January 6, and also her father, the former vice president, Dick Cheney.

Members of the Democratic side lined up afterwards one by one to greet him, to shake his hand. And, also, Nancy Pelosi herself went up and greeted him as well. Their warm words exchanged, a much different situation than when Dick Cheney was vice president, when there was no love lost between Republicans -- between Cheney and Democrats.

But this is much different. The party -- the Republicans are a much different party now. And Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney on the outs with much of his party, mostly because of January 6, and the efforts by her -- by his daughter to investigate what happened, and the push by -- how she was pushed out by the Republican leadership because of her war of words with Donald Trump.

And Dick Cheney too made clear his disappointment with Republican leaders for not commemorating the events of the day.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.


RAJU: So he said, "It's not leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years."

And he went on to say in a statement that was released just moments ago that he's deeply disappointed by many in his party who do not recognize the gravity of the nature of that day.

But in reflecting back at what happened at that time, when we were -- after we were evacuated from this building to a secure location, we came out after the senators were evacuated themselves, and they were escorted back to the Senate to continue the certification process late in the night, after all the insurrectionists has had been pushed out.

There was a sense of unity among Democrats and Republicans who just viewed the events with disbelief. They were aghast and insisted that nothing would happen again. But that moment of unity has essentially dissipated. It happened pretty rapidly, particularly on the House side, as you're seeing just a couple of Republicans today in the House.

And right now, on the Senate side, there are a lot of four speeches being given right now about what happened, those floor speeches given strictly by Democrats -- guys.

BLACKWELL: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Now, CNN's Alex Marquardt, he was outside the Capitol that day as things escalated there. And when the crowd of Trump supporters realized that he and his crew were CNN, they refocused just a bit of that aggression.


CAMEROTA: A warning: Some of the language you're about to hear is graphic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fuck CNN! Lying motherfuckers!



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Better get out of here, motherfuckers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Let's go. Let's go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, get out of here!


CAMEROTA: Alex Marquardt joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Alex, that looked scary. Those looked like tense moments. I mean, they're getting -- you can see that when they figure out who you're with, they get angrier, I mean, to the point where they're practically foaming at the mouth.


And you can -- in that video, you can see that they actually did, at one point, tackle our crew and our cameraman. That happened in this hour exactly a year ago. And it was as the instruction had just gotten under way. We actually went around to the other side of the Capitol to get a closer look.

And, as you said, I still don't know how, but they did figure out that we were CNN, and they surrounded us. And it became very quickly apparent that we had to get out of there. We were afraid that something would happen to us. And so we kind of just put our heads down and got out of the crowd as quickly as possible.

One thing I will never forget is someone saying: "There are more of us than you. We could absolutely destroy you right now."

So it was a very jarring moment. I have covered hostile crowds overseas. I have covered parliament buildings overseas that have been overtaken and ransacked. But I have never felt that kind of hostility and anger directed towards me and my team.

And, Alisyn and Victor, it's not to make this story about us. It's -- there were far more important things that happened that day. But it really, in playing that video, does show our viewers who was up there that day, what they were saying, what they were thinking. And that attitude towards the press in general and CNN in particular is just another extension of Trumpism, is just more evidence of the conditioning that the former president did to his supporters.

So it was a very upsetting experience. And throughout the course of the day, those of us who have been -- who were here have been going through the day that -- a year ago. As you said with Manu, he announced at, I think, 2:05 that the Capitol was in lockdown.

And, in fact, that the January 6 Committee, which, of course, has been investigating the events of that day has been tweeting throughout the day, as these time -- these times come up, these incidents come up.

The last one that they just tweeted was, "At 1:59, the mob at the Capitol grows after Trump finishes Ellipse speech. Capitol Police start to become overwhelmed and are ordered to pull back and request support."

Alisyn, Victor, it could not be a more different scene out here today. And this stark contrast between that day and this one really does hammer home how dramatic and dark that day was, and provides -- and it really makes you think about the events of that day and where things stand now.

CAMEROTA: Well, Alex, that's why I think that your video is actually so valuable, because the fact that it's just inches away from the camera and from your face, and you get to look into the eyes of hatred, that's what so many police officers had to confront that day as well.

And so we appreciate you sharing it with us. And we can imagine how tense that was.

MARQUARDT: And I should say...

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

MARQUARDT: ... we were lucky that we got out of there unharmed. And that is not the case for so many of those officers who were harmed both physically and mentally, some of whom lost their lives.

CAMEROTA: Yes, and they're still dealing with it.

Thank you, Alex, very much.

With us now, we have CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and Olivia Troye. She was an adviser to Mike Pence when he was the vice president.

Olivia, I want to start with you, because, in those moments, we saw, I think for the first time in many of our lives, how fragile democracy was. We had taken it for granted. And we saw how quickly the guardrails could have come down, and we might have lost it that day, had a few guardrails not held.

And I'm wondering, a year later, if you think that we're in any better position today.

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: No, unfortunately, I think we're actually in a worse position, because while I had hoped and wanted to believe that the events and the narratives that led us down the path to the January 6 event and this tragic moment would cease, and that would be a moment of reckoning, especially within the Republican Party, on the damage that was being done and what was happening here across our country.

And we saw this and lived this firsthand watching these horrific images that we're watching again today. But I think those narratives and that messaging has continued, and, in fact, they have doubled down on it.

And so while I think that there are many who took that moment, took a step back and reevaluated, the majority are still doubling down on the lies. And they're going to continue to sort of deflect on what really is happening here.


And it's undermining voter confidence. It's undermining Americans every day in our communities. They're creating this division. And they're continuing to drive this forward. And I fear for what's to come in the coming months. I fear what's going to happen in the 2022 elections and going forward, because these threats, this violence, this potential for political violence continuing has not ceased.

BLACKWELL: John, the president hit on some of those points in his speech this morning. And it was, as Kaitlan Collins said, probably the references to the

former president, not once by name, but more than I think some people expected.

I want to play a bit of what the president said, and then let's talk about it.


BIDEN: Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America, at American democracy.

They didn't come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here in rage, not in service of America, but rather in service of one man.


BLACKWELL: A dagger at the throat of America.

You're a former speechwriter, John. What do you make of this president delivering this speech in the context of what he said his goal was in coming to office?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This was a speech for the history books.

And you're right. I listen to speeches as a former speechwriter, and as someone who writes books about political history, and here was Biden in Statuary Hall laying down a very strong marker with a very strong speech. And I use the word strong advisedly, because, sometimes, the self-styled strongmen, the demagogues in our politics, try to claim that.

But here was somebody speaking for civility in defense of our democracy in the office of president and laying out the stakes. It's not just about him criticizing the former president 16 times. That wasn't the heart of the speech.

The heart of the speech was that he is willing as president to step into the breach, and to stand up to those folks who would try to tear down our democracy. And that fight hasn't ended. I would agree with everything Olivia Troye said, except the idea that things are worse now than they were one year ago.

Objectively, they're not. Donald Trump is no longer president. We no longer have a person with the power of the executive branch trying to actively undo an election and incite an insurrection. So we're in a better place, but the danger is not yet done. And that's what we need to stay focused on. And that's what the real meaning of the speech was today,

CAMEROTA: Gloria, one of the remarkable things has been to see the speed with which some of the Republicans who on that day exactly a year ago had crystal clarity about what had happened and about what they had just been subjected to vs. where they are today. So, as an example, let me play for you Senate Minority Leader Mitch

McConnell, what he said then and the statement he put out today.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I have served 36 years in the Senate. This will be the most important vote I have ever cast.

There's nothing before us...


CAMEROTA: Break in right now. This is Nancy Pelosi speaking right now about what happened a year ago.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): And I want to thank Congressman Jason Crow.

We all know him as an American patriot, serving our nation in uniform as an Army Ranger for three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received a Bronze Star, serving our nation in the Congress, including as an impeachment manager, and now serving the nation as a leader in the caucus following the insurrection, including lending members' -- leading members' testimonials, which are vital to establishing and preserving the narrative of that day.

My colleagues, please welcome Jason Crow.

Jason Crow, the floor is yours.


REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Thank you, Madam Speaker, colleagues, and, most of all, friends.

It is my honor to provide over -- preside over today's testimonials by members of Congress about the events of January 6, 2021.

The people you will hear from today come from around the country. They represent the rich diversity of our nation. And their voices strike true. They are, in my book, patriots whose dedication to our nation is total. Their courage inspires me every day. But, more than anything, perhaps, they are my friends.

It is said that truth dies when people stop speaking it. Well, it will not die on our watch.


And, with that, it is my honor to recognize Lisa Blunt Rochester from the state of Delaware.


Madam Speaker, my dear, dear colleagues, and the American family, good afternoon. Let me begin, Madam Speaker, by thanking you for the opportunity for

all of us to gather today and for this occasion to properly contextualize, for history, the events of January 6, 2021.

For me, January 6 will forever be known as a day of remembrance, reflection, and recommitment. I remember waking up that morning tense, but excited, excited to participate and witness the certification of Delaware's first American president.

It was the culmination of a hard-fought campaign in the midst of a historic pandemic. I know I had no idea that the safest, most secure election of our lifetime would, on that day, turn into a violent insurrection.

January 6, for me, will forever be a day to remember how the light of acts of courage, small and large, defeated darkness. Heroes, staffers, custodians, police, I will remember those who quite literally gave their lives.

A day of reflection. I reflect on that day, being trapped in the Gallery, ultimately praying for all of our safety and peace in our nation. I also reflect on just how close, how close we were to losing it, to losing our democracy.

Those of us trapped in the Gallery, we lived it, ducking, crawling, under, over railings, hands, knees, the sounds, the smells. We had a front-row seat to what lies, hate, or plain old misinformation conjures.

We went from victims to witnesses. And, today, we are messengers. We reflect on the fact that January 6 was about so much more than an effort to break into a building. It was an effort to break down our institutions.

And I must admit to you, my colleagues, that, over this past year, there have been times when I felt that justice was not swift enough. I felt sad, I felt mad, I felt bewildered that some minimized the day and continue to minimize it.

But we don't give up, because in the words of poet William Cullen Bryant, and quoted by Martin Luther King, truth crushed to earth shall rise. Truth crushed to earth shall rise.

So, on this day, let us recommit to our democracy and to each other. On the day that I was sworn into Congress, as many of my colleagues know, I was the first African-American and the first woman from the state of Delaware elected to Congress, and I carried this scarf with me.

It marked an X that my great-great-great-grandfather used to sign this return of qualified voter registration of 1867 in Georgia. I also carried it on the day of the insurrection, because it is my proof of what we have overcome. And it is my inspiration for what is yet to be done, as we work towards a more perfect union.

I continue to have hope, even when I feel hopeless, because my ancestors would have it no other way, and because Scripture tells us that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

And while I remember a great deal that day, what I remember most is walking back on to the House floor into the chamber that morning to complete our work, the morning when democracy prevailed.


Remember, reflect, recommit.


CAMEROTA: All right, we will continue to monitor all of the speeches of lawmakers today as they reflect on what happened a year ago.

We want to bring in now our next guest. He was also inside the Capitol as it was attacked.

He is a democracy -- Democratic Majority Whip Senator Dick Durbin.

Great to see you, Senator.

We just heard from Congresswoman Rochester there. She was very emotional talking about how close we came that day, she says, to losing our democracy. And I wonder, do you think, today, democracy is safer than it was a year ago?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): It's safer because Donald Trump is no longer president, but let me tell you, the forces that created him, the ones that are still loyal to him, those who are afraid of him are still legion.

And they are part of the American political scene. So, he is a force, certainly, a controlling force in the Republican Party.

CAMEROTA: There's also what's happening on the local level and what might happen during the midterms and what might happen during 2024 and the presidential election.

And this is how "The Washington Post" summed it up: "At least 163 Republicans who have embraced Trump's false claims are running for statewide positions that would give them authority over the administration of elections, according to a 'Post' tally. The list includes 69 candidates for governor in 30 states, as well as 55 candidates for the U.S. Senate, 13 candidates for state attorney general, and 18 candidates for secretary of state in places where that person is the state's top election official."

I know that you are focused on voting rights, but nothing's happening at the federal level that's stopping all of this from happening on the ground.

DURBIN: And it reflects the fact that the Senate is 50/50, 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans.

There is no majority. There is a nominal majority when the vice president joins the Democrats, but it means that, when it comes to passing legislation, it's an extraordinary challenge. We are going to face that challenge in just a few days here the Senate. And I hope that we can convince all the Democrats to join us in an effort to make sure that voting rights are a sacred right that are reflected and respected in the future.

CAMEROTA: But whatever you're working on, will it undo that? Can it undo what's already happening in state legislatures and at state election boards around the country?

DURBIN: If it is the law of the land -- and it's already passed the House of Representatives -- if the Senate passes the bill, we believe it will be signed by President Biden and it will be applied to these state laws to make sure that they do not limit the opportunities for eligible voters to vote.

CAMEROTA: One of the things that has been remarkable to see is the different narrative, the shifting narrative from Republicans, who were with you that day, whose lives were also threatened a year ago.

And I know that you spent some of that day with Senator Mitch McConnell. And a year ago, that day, he was crystal clear. When you all came back on to the floor to vote, he was crystal clear about what had just happened and the threat to democracy.

So, let me just play for you what he said then.


MCCONNELL: I have served 36 years in the Senate. This will be the most important vote I have ever cast.

There's nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale, the massive scale that would have tipped the entire election.


CAMEROTA: He went on to say that: "The voters have spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever."

Now, fast-forward to today. Today, he put out a statement saying: "It's been stunning to see some Washington Democrats try to exploit the anniversary to advance partisan policy goals that long predated this event. It's especially jaw-dropping to hear some Senate Democrats invoke the mob's attempt to disrupt our country's norms, rules, and institutions as justification to discard our norms, rules, and institutions."

How did he go from thinking that, last year, it was the most important vote he would take in his 36 years to today thinking that it's Democrats making too much of it?

DURBIN: And on the road to that decision, recently, he also vetoed, basically used the filibuster, to stop a bipartisan commission to look into the events of January 6.

I don't follow what Senator McConnell's saying or thinking on the subject. I thought, a year ago, he was very clear and lucid. He is a man who's spent most of his life in the Senate as a staffer and as a member of the United States Senate. I know he loves the institution in his own way, but to try to reconcile what he has just recently said with what he said a year ago is almost impossible.

CAMEROTA: And when you were with him a year ago, and when you were all basically hiding for your lives, just reflect on that.

I mean, what -- were there conversations? What was happening a year ago today?