Floor Speech

Date: Jan. 6, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, I am so happy to join my colleagues on the floor in a very solemn effort to think through the meaning, at a 1-year anniversary, of the attack upon the Capitol on January 6.

Today is not only that anniversary. Today, in the Christian tradition, is the Feast of the Epiphany. And I remembered, sitting in the Chamber last year, as we were barricaded in, under attack, and with the confusion all around me, at one point I realized: Today is the Feast of the Epiphany--the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6.

What is Epiphany? The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the magi at the manger. Wise men of the day saw a portent and disturbance in the sky, and were led to a place where they believed something remarkable would happen.

What they found completely surprised them. It wasn't what they were expecting. It wasn't power. It wasn't pomp. It wasn't majesty. It was a tiny baby, born to a family too humble to even get a room at an inn, lying with his mother in a stable, surrounded by barnyard animals.

They found something that they couldn't have imagined, and it changed their lives and it changed the world.

Why do I reference the Feast of the Epiphany? I reference it because, like many things in the Christian story, it has gone way beyond Christianity.

By the middle 1700s or 1800s, the word ``epiphany'' now had a broader use. It was not just about the arrival of the magi at the manger. The word ``epiphany'' now means something much more widespread in the English language. It is defined as a moment in which you suddenly see something in a new or very clear way.

The word ``epiphany'' comes from a Greek root meaning reveal. All of us--all of us--no matter how long we have been around, have the capacity for epiphanies--deeper understandings of essential truths that reveal themselves in our lives.

I want to talk about January 6 and one epiphany I have had as a result of it.

Before I do, I want to acknowledge five people, five Virginia law enforcement officers, who lost their lives in the days after the Capitol attack.

I thank my colleague Senator Warner, who talked at really important length about the contributions of the Virginia State Police and the VA National Guard. I want to focus on five people: Brian Sicknick, U.S. Capitol Police, 42-year-old, after service in the military, had been with the Capitol Police for 13 years, dying immediately after the attack because of injuries he received that day; Jeffrey Smith, another Virginian, 35 years old, 12-year patrolman with the Metropolitan Police Department, died after the attack, by suicide; Howie Liebengood, 51 years old, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Capitol Police, died shortly after the attack, by suicide; Kyle DeFreytag, 26-year-old, 5-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, died a few days after the attack, by suicide; Gunther Hashida, 43 years old, an 18-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, died in the days after the attack, by suicide--all Virginians.

I am haunted by these deaths, and I will say, I am particularly haunted by those who died by suicide, whose families are now fighting to get line-of-duty benefits for their deaths.

All of us, in our lives, have been affected by suicide in families and friends. And suicide is complicated. There is not a single thing, as you dig into a suicide, but I just use the insights I have gained as a member of the Armed Services Committee, together with you, Mr. President.

Over the time we have been here, there has been a slight shift in understanding of causes of suicide within the military.

The conventional wisdom about it, when I came here, was that suicide was driven, maybe, as a principal factor in the military and among veterans because of the cumulative effects of trauma. The trauma was so significant that that led to suicide. Of course, trauma is a key factor, but a more recent understanding of suicide suggests that an even more important factor may not be trauma, but a sense of abandonment.

I was in a military unit. I had a lot of people around me. They had my back. We were close. We were connected. We were really tight. And then I moved into a civilian world, where I didn't have that connection and people didn't have my back, and I was lost, and I didn't know whom to turn to or who would look out for me.

I am haunted by the deaths of these four Virginians to suicide because I wonder if they felt abandoned. Did they feel abandoned by us?

They were fighting that day to save our democracy, to save this Capitol, and to save their lives, and yet 147 of the 535 Members of Congress voted with the mob to overturn the election, to throw out the democracy, to do the bidding of a would-be authoritarian.

If you are fighting to protect these 535 Members of Congress and this institution and you watch nearly 30 percent of the Members side with the attackers, I would suggest that they might have felt abandoned.

When I was here on January 6, I experienced a lot of emotions, and I am just going to describe two: relief and anger.

Relief? How could that day create a sense of relief?

I was relieved that I had told my staff to stay home. My chief of staff disobeyed me. But I was relieved that I had told my staff to stay home. Thank God, they were safe.

I was relieved to look right here and see no pages. I was relieved that pages were not here in this Chamber, because, thank God, they would be safe.

And I was relieved not only because my staff was safe, but I was relieved because I didn't want their youthful, altruistic, public- service motivation to be damaged or demoralized by what was happening that day.

I expressed this to my staff this morning. I sent a note to them, and I said: In the middle of all these emotions, I was relieved that you weren't here; that I had told you to stay home so you wouldn't be in danger like so many were. But I don't want you to be demoralized by what happened.

And I had a staff member come to me right before I came to the floor and said: January 6 didn't demoralize me; it energized me.

Thank God for that.

The second emotion that was so powerful in me, and even so powerful that I couldn't quite understand it, was anger. Now, of course, anger would be an acceptable and completely understandable reaction to what was going on. And I have known anger in my life, but the anger I felt that day was different than what I had felt in 63 years. There was something different about it.

And it took me months--it took me months--to figure it out. Was it just the physical attack? Was it the friends and staff and other people who were in danger? Yeah, that was all part of it.

It took me months to figure out exactly why I was so angry. And then I had an epiphany. I had an epiphany.

No one in my life had ever tried to disenfranchise me. I am a White male, born in 1958. I am a civil rights lawyer in the capital of the Confederacy, fighting for voting rights for all kinds of people. Of course, voting rights were important. I was passionately committed to it in my professional life before I came here, but it was something that I was sort of, you know, trying to do to help others. No one had ever tried to disenfranchise me.

But what was going on on the floor that day was an effort to object to the very first State, as you went through them alphabetically, that had voted for Joe Biden, to object to that State and try to disenfranchise, through that objection and others that were lined up, the 80 million people who had voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. All of us who cast our ballots that way, we were being disenfranchised that day.

It had never happened to me before. For some Americans, they had experienced disenfranchisement often in their lives. Some Americans have experienced disenfranchisement during their whole lives. Some Americans have experienced disenfranchisement not for 4 hours but for 4 centuries. It had never happened to me.

For a few hours, and just a few--and just a few--I felt the pain of those who have faced disenfranchisement efforts to take away or threaten their vote for their whole lives, and I hated it. I hated that feeling. I hated that feeling.

My epiphany was one of empathy: So this is how it feels when others scheme to take your vote, when they try to exclude you, when they try to say you don't count. This is how it feels. It hadn't happened to me before, and for a few hours, it did.

The next morning, I walked into the Capitol and the Sun was shining and the threat to me was past. We had finished the work. The insurrection delayed the certification and peaceful transfer of power, but it couldn't stop it.

But the epiphany of briefly being in the shoes of those who have been disenfranchised throughout their lives has changed me profoundly. It hasn't changed my personality. It hasn't changed my relationships. But it has changed my priorities.

Again, I was a civil rights lawyer doing voting rights work in the capital of the Confederacy. Protecting the right to vote has always been important to me. Protecting the integrity of campaigns and elections have always been important to me. But now it is beyond that. It is not just an important priority, it is an existential necessity that we respond to the mass disenfranchisement effort of January 6, with guaranteeing the franchise; guaranteeing people's right to vote; guaranteeing that, when they vote, they can be secure that their vote will be counted; guaranteeing that they can trust the integrity of the officials that will call the outcomes of elections.

My epiphany of empathy has put me in the shoes, for a few hours, of those who have experienced disenfranchisement, and I have concluded that the only response to that has to be--has to be--a concerted effort to protect voting and protect the democracy that relies upon it.

I will say this and conclude: January 6 will always be remembered as the attack on the Capitol. January 6 will always be the Feast of the Epiphany. January 6 was a day in our history of epiphanies.

But what is the purpose of an epiphany? Is it just to kind of see things a new way?

I think the purpose of an epiphany is to change your life; it is to be surprised. Go and see something that you didn't expect, and then be willing to adjust your life and your priority as proof that you were paying attention.

We will be faced with a most significant decision in the coming days. Having been the 100 Senators out of the 2,000 in history who have inhabited this Chamber who were here during the attack, will we understand what happened, absorb that epiphany, and then act to protect people's rights to participate in this democracy?

I pray that we will. I pray that we will.