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Watch now: Illinois congressional delegation reflect on Capitol attack a year later

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On January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump's supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to overturn his election defeat, the worst assault on the seat of the federal government since the War of 1812. Here's a look at the key events of the day.

SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, was one of just a few dozen lawmakers on the U.S. House floor on Jan. 6, 2021, when she began to realize something wasn't right. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, presiding over the formal counting of Electoral College votes from the 2020 U.S. presidential election, had suddenly been whisked away from the chamber, soon to be followed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Majority Whip Jim Clybourn, D-S.C.

"So we're all kind of looking around (and thinking) what's going on here?" Bustos told Lee Enterprises in an interview Wednesday afternoon. 

Cheri Bustos


"And about that same time, I had a colleague of mine who was sitting to my left and he hands me his phone and he says, 'look at this.' And it showed a bunch of people storming the Capitol. I said, 'what is this and when did this happen?' And he said 'this is live television.'"

What Bustos was seeing was the beginning of a deadly insurrection in which the most violent supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the Capitol seeking to prevent the certification of election results that showed Trump lost to now-President Joe Biden. 

Capitol Riot AP Poll

The U.S. Capitol is shown on Jan. 6. Illinois lawmakers looked back on the events of a year ago. 

"You're basically a sitting duck," Bustos said of the position she was in.

"I'm pretty tall, I'm about (5-foot-9), and so I look down on the floor of the chambers and I'm thinking that there's no way I would have anywhere to hide," she said. "I was too tall to go under any of the chairs. And your mind just starts going into like 'okay, what are you going to do if somebody comes in and starts shooting?'"

Such stark memories still weigh heavily on the minds of Bustos and other downstate members of the state's congressional delegation, with some even acknowledging that the events of that day had altered their future electoral plans.

However, responses varied largely along partisan lines, with many in disagreement about the response to the attack and whether or not to place Trump at the center of it. 

"The actions of those who breached the Capitol were lawless and wrong," said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. "Those who broke the law that day should be punished as the law requires and face the consequences of their actions."

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville

"I’m thankful all in my family are healthy and that all of us are blessed to live in the greatest country in the history of the world."

However, Davis directed his ire towards Pelosi not Trump, saying "we are in no better position to avoid a similar breach of the Capitol today because Speaker Pelosi has failed to address the serious security vulnerabilities that still exist."

"The Democrats have been more interested in exploiting January 6 for political purposes and pursuing phony investigations of President Trump instead of securing the Capitol," Davis said. "That's why I voted no on and have consistently spoken out against Pelosi's sham January 6 Select Committee."

Davis went on to say that he would hold "Democrats accountable for playing politics with the Capitol's security."

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, said that it was "a terrible day for our country and our democracy."

"We are a nation of law and order and individuals who committed crimes should be held accountable, which federal authorities continue to pursue," LaHood said. "It is disappointing however, that Speaker Pelosi’s unprecedented refusal to allow Republican-appointed members to serve on her partisan select committee has turned efforts to ensure the security of the Capitol and our government into a partisan circus.“



In July, the House voted to create a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. It came after efforts to form a bicameral commission fell short in the U.S. Senate. 

Five Republicans, including Davis, were initially selected to serve on the committee, but Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Ca. pulled his appointments after two members were rejected by Pelosi. 

Only two Republicans, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, are on the nine-person committee. Both voted to impeach Trump. 

"Some say it's time to move on from January 6," Kinzinger said in a video posted to his social media Wednesday. "But we can't move on without addressing what happened or pretending it never happened. We can't move on without taking action to make sure it never happens again."

Lone voice in a wilderness

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger expresses disappointment with his fellow Republican legislators who have been unwilling to deal with policy issues during an interview in Morris on July 8, 2021. Kinzinger is one of only a handful of Republican leaders who have been willing to call out former President Trump for spreading lies about the election.

Kinzinger went on to criticize Republican leaders, saying that they are pouring gasoline on the fire one year later. 

The attack has influenced Kinzinger's political future. He announced last October that he would not run for reelection to his House seat and, on Wednesday, confirmed he would devote himself to fighting right-wing extremism through his political action committee, saying that "saving America is the fight of our lives."

"This time last year, I hoped victory would come in a matter of months," Kinzinger said. "Now I see it will take years. That's why I'm transitioning from serving just one corner of Illinois into fighting this new nationwide mission full-time."

Kinzinger isn't alone in altering his course post-Jan. 6. Bustos, who characterized the attack as "a life-changing event," said it was a major factor in her decision to not seek reelection in 2022. 

She said her husband — Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos —  and three sons urged her not to run. 

"For them, it was a last straw," Bustos said.

U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, in a statement, address the Jan. 6 committee, calling it a "witch hunt against President Trump "at a time when Americans are suffering from an inflation crisis, an energy crisis, and a crisis at our southern border."

U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland

Mary Miller

"The Jan. 6th Committee is pure politics because there are no Republican appointees on the Committee, Speaker Pelosi wanted to keep Rodney Davis on the January 6th Committee but she rejected Jim Jordan and Jim Banks because they were supporters of President Trump."

 Davis spokesman Aaron DeGroot, in response to Miller, said that "it's unfortunate that Mary Miller is resorting to false attacks against Rodney, Kelly Armstrong, and Troy Nehls for wanting to get to the bottom of Speaker Pelosi’s involvement in security failures at the Capitol," referencing two other Republican members appointed before McCarthy pulled them.

DeGroot also pointed out that Miller did not vote on the bill that created the select committee. Davis voted no. 

Bustos, the lone Democrat with a district based in downstate Illinois, said that looking ahead, it was crucial for the select committee to complete its work by the end of the year. If Republicans regain the House majority, the select committee will likely be squashed.

"It has to be wrapped up here in the coming months," Bustos said. "I think to let it go past the November elections, we can't even consider that because we don't know what's going to happen. And anybody who's trying to impede getting to the truth should be ashamed of themselves."


Brenden Moore's 5 most memorable stories of 2021

If 2020 was a year of disruption, 2021 was a year of change.

Perhaps no arena saw more change than Illinois government and politics.

Michael Madigan, the longest-serving House speaker in American history, was toppled by his caucus amid a growing corruption probe. In his place rose House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, who is the first Black person to hold that title.

I wrote several stories about Welch this year, but none was more memorable than when I profiled in late January, when he told me about that fateful question Madigan asked him just a few weeks prior: “Chris, do you want to be speaker?”

This past summer, I also had the opportunity to profile U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who has gained a national profile as one of the most vocal Republican critics of former President Donald Trump. 

There was also a lot of major policy change in Illinois this year. Not to mention the impacts of policies enacted in previous years, such as recreational marijuana legalization and the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. 

Some of those topics are addressed in my five most memorable stories of 2021. I hope you can tell through this sampling of my work that I truly love my job. It's a privilege to tell this state's stories. As always, thank you for reading. 



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