The mood is so bad at the U.S. Capitol that a Democratic congressman recently let an elevator pass him by rather than ride with Republican colleagues who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election. Republicans say it’s Democrats who just need to get over it — move on from the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, end the COVID-19 restrictions and make an effort toward bipartisanship. Not yet 100 days into the new Congress, the legislative branch has become an increasingly toxic and unsettled place, with lawmakers frustrated by the work-from-home limits imposed by the coronavirus and suspicious of each other after the Jan. 6 riot over Donald Trump’s presidency.
Particularly in the House, which remains partly shuttered by the pandemic and where lawmakers heard gunshots ring out during the siege, trust is low, settled facts about the riot are apparently up for debate and wary, exhausted members are unsure how or when the “People’s House” will return to normal. One newer congresswoman said it’s “heartbreaking” to see what has become of the institution she cherished, in the country she has taken an oath to defend from enemies foreign and domestic. “You know, I do sometimes just close my eyes and, like, picture this place in the way that it used to be, and how welcoming it was,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., first elected in 2018. An immigrant from Somalia, she said she draws on the coping skills she learned as a child in wartime to enter the razor-wire fenced Capitol, now with armed members of the National Guard, to “try to pretend that that’s not what it is.”
The first months of the year have laid bare the scars from the historic, unprecedented events. The fallout extends far beyond the broken windows and gouged walls of the Capitol to the loss that comes from the absence of usual routines and visitors that were the daily hum of democracy. With virtual meetings and socially distanced votes, lawmakers have fewer opportunities to talk to each other, share ideas and ease fears in the aftermath of the riot. “The mood is toxic,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “I mean, it really sucks to be in the minority, but it’s really worse when there’s just such a high partisan temperature.”