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Politics & Government

Sen. Amy Klobuchar remains haunted by what happened on Jan.6

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tomorrow marks one year since a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 election. Many of them believed a lie that the election had been stolen for Joe Biden, a lie promoted on far-right news outlets, social media and by then-President Trump. The images of that day - of U.S. Capitol Police being attacked, the seat of American government being overrun - they're hard to forget. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was, of course, in the Capitol on January 6, certifying the election along with her Senate colleagues. I asked her what sticks in her mind from that day one year later.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: What I remember the most is late, late in the evening - actually, the next day, 3:30 a.m. - when Senator Blunt, who's the Republican lead with me on the Rules Committee, and Vice President Pence, just the three of us - we were the only ones left in the Senate chamber - with the two young women with the mahogany box with the last of the electoral ballots up to Wyoming, walked that corridor to the House to finish our job. There was glass broken all around us. There was spray-painted statues. And just that morning, we'd had a joyful walk to start the day, which should be a celebration of our democracy. And that's how it ended. But I do remember that sense of pride that we had finished our job and we had certified those votes. And President Biden and Vice President Harris were declared the victor, as they should have been.

MARTIN: Are we now, a year later, any closer to having a full picture of what happened on January 6, do you think?

KLOBUCHAR: We are. We've had hundreds and hundreds of prosecutions out of the Justice Department. We have a major investigation going on in the House with support from courageous Republicans like Liz Cheney. And we have the work that we did in the Senate that I led with Senators Portman and Senator Blunt and Senator Peters which actually looked at the security. We've made pretty dramatic changes there - with a whole new group of people leading, our police Sergeant at Arms, new bill passed, making it easier for the police chief to call in the National Guard, better sharing of intelligence.

Because always the haunting words that I think of when I look at our police and all they went through that day was the one officer in the squad car that said over the radio, does anyone have a plan? Does anyone have a plan? And the answer was no. So all of those things - getting to the bottom of what happened, improving our security and then, of course, carrying on the fight for democracy by passing voting rights legislation - that should be the legacy of that day.

MARTIN: You're holding a hearing with U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger today. He took the job last year after the previous chief resigned after the January 6 attack. What do you want to know from Thomas Manger?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, the first will be going through all of the recommendations that we made because our job is oversight, and we need accountability. We have put forth major supplemental funding, and one of the things that just is horrifying and should be put public is that 75% of the officers on duty that day were forced to defend the Capitol in their regular uniforms. In some places, the insurrectionists had more protective gear on than the police officers did. So that has to change.

But I'm going to push him on two things. One is the increasing threats against Congress, which coincides with the attacks on our election. They've doubled, tripled up to over 8,000 threats in a year. And the second is about the need to hire officers, something that's plaguing police departments across the country. And he is, I know, taking measures with retention bonuses and regional recruiting and the like to do that. But we are down hundreds of officers in the Capitol.

MARTIN: A recent NPR poll found that 64% of Americans believe that democracy in this country is, quote, "in crisis and at risk of failing." Now, those are Democrats and Republicans, self-identified, and they think this for very different reasons.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes.

MARTIN: I mean, Republicans think this because of a lie about the election being stolen. Democrats fear a repeat of January 6. How do you see this moment in American history?

KLOBUCHAR: I'm not going to concede that our democracy is going to fail because I have too much faith in the people of this country. And I certainly saw that that night after the horror of the insurrection, when actually over 90 of the senators voted to uphold the Electoral College. I saw it two weeks later under that beautiful blue sky when leaders of both parties stood out there on that inaugural stage with the beautiful words of Amanda Gorman.

But right now, we have a continuing attack on our democracy. And what was, on January 6, a bayonets and bear spray is now over 400 bills introduced to make it harder for people to vote. As Bob Dole once said, no first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens. He said that in reference to civil rights legislation. Well, it's the same thing today. So I truly see this as the work - in addition to getting to the bottom of everything that happened and holding people accountable at every level, there must be work to protect the democracy. And that's why it's such a priority for many of us to pass our bill, the Freedom to Vote Act.

MARTIN: What happens if former President Trump decides to run? What happens if he gets the nomination? How do you confront the disinformation that will inevitably come about the 2020 election?

KLOBUCHAR: Americans rejected Donald Trump in the last election. And while we know he has a strong following - you see it at rallies and the like - we also know that there are a whole bunch of people, including many in his own party, that did reject him, including independents all over this country. And I have faith that that will continue. But part of a democracy is putting out your policies, of making the case to the American people how you stand by them - their side.

And I always go back to Georgia and what happened there in the Senate race because Donald Trump full on took on their elections, right? He took on their, even, Republican election official, and the people of Georgia responded. They said, no, we don't agree with you. They elected, against all odds, two Democratic senators after he, time and time again, went after their election in Georgia. And I thought, given that that's Georgia, that's a good sign of what's going to happen to this guy if he continues this assault on our democracy.

MARTIN: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, we appreciate your time. Senator, thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.