Congress braces for new members who were at Capitol on Jan. 6

Photo illustration: Maura Losch. Photos: Scott Olson/Getty Images, Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images and Dustin Franz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Three people who were on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 stand a serious chance of returning to the site of the deadly riot next January — this time as duly elected Republican members of Congress.

Why it matters: Democratic members who were on the other side of the attack aren't prepared to simply forgive and forget, telling Axios they have concerns about their personal security and the broader ramifications for democracy if these candidates are elected.

Driving the news: The Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC plans to cancel its ad reservations in Wisconsin's 3rd District, Axios reported this month — potentially ceding the race to Republican Derrick Van Orden.

  • Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, has acknowledged being at the Capitol but claims he left when it was "clear that a protest had become a mob." But the Daily Beast reports he was behind police barricades after the violence began.
  • J.R. Majewski, the Republican challenging Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), said in a local interview he was "responsible for 60-70 people at the Capitol" and left when "everything started to happen."
  • North Carolina's Sandy Smith tweeted on Jan. 6 that she "marched from the [Washington] Monument to the Capitol." Republican leadership spent heavily in an unsuccessful bid to stop her from winning the nomination.

None of the three has been charged in connection to the riot, and all have now received some level of institutional support from House Republican leadership.

  • Van Orden has called Jan. 6 "one of the most tragic incidents" in American history and said The Daily Beast report is "inaccurate."
  • By contrast, Majewski often downplays the attack, criticizing the Capitol Police's conduct and tweeting, "More people dead at a Travis Scott Concert than the 'Insurrection' on Jan 6th."
  • Smith said in the immediate aftermath of the attack, “I don’t support violence in any way. But we need to make the D.C. establishment listen." On the one-year anniversary, she tweeted, "The radical Democrats advocate for violence and lawlessness."

Van Orden and Smith's campaigns did not respond to requests for interviews and for comment on this story.

  • In a statement to Axios, Majewski said Kaptur is the true threat to her colleagues’ safety and that Democrats should hope she loses re-election.

What they're saying: In interviews with Axios, House Democrats who were trapped in the gallery as the violence unfolded said these Republicans will get a chilly reception if they win.

  • Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) told Axios: "I know I won't feel safe with them in office, potentially having offices right next to ours, having to run into them in the hallway, knowing that they get all the same privileges and access."
  • "It's terrifying, personally, because these were people who were with violent insurrectionists," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). "It's also terrifying from the perspective of our country … to have [members of Congress] who are so actively part of denying the elections ."
  • "Let’s just say there will be no red carpet or handshakes awaiting insurrectionists who become members of Congress," said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.).

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), who was also in the gallery and was photographed holding a distraught Rep. Susan Wild's (D-Pa.) hand as she lay on the floor, said he'll "do everything to hold them accountable."

  • "If, for some reason, their districts elect them … [I'll] make sure that they work to atone for their behavior," Crow said.
  • "And if they don't, we'll do everything to marginalize them and make sure that they don't continue to incite violence and future insurrections."

The other side: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other conservatives have given these candidates their blessing, but even House Republicans who voted to certify the election told Axios the conference should make room for them.

  • "I think people should be judged on whether they broke the law or not," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), adding: "I don't know what their motives were, but they have a right to peacefully protest."
  • He said law-breaking and assaulting law enforcement are "unacceptable," but "I doubt any of our three people [did that]."
  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) told Axios: "It's important to recognize there is no indication that any of them [were at] the riot inside the Capitol … They have a right to come to D.C. and protest whatever they want, regardless of whether I agree with it or not."

What we're watching: This dynamic could impact Congress' already frayed capacity for bipartisan work. After Jan. 6, some Democrats refused to co-lead bills with Republicans who voted to decertify presidential electors.

  • "It's hard enough to work together to get things done … across the aisle in a country that's horrifically polarized," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), and then "you couple this, which is both personal and professional."
  • Several Democrats, like Jacobs, told Axios they couldn't see themselves working with anyone who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6. "Am I going to do anything to help them personally? It's almost impossible," said Quigley.
  • "After Jan. 6, there were Democrats who worked with Republicans for many, many years that, all of a sudden, wouldn't do it," Armstrong said, blaming the failure to pass certain legislation on "these bright lines [that were] drawn."

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