The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to set up an expert commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. But a majority of Republicans voted against the commission ― part of a broader effort from the party to distance itself from an attack encouraged by its own leader, then-President Donald Trump.
The bipartisan vote sets up a showdown with the Senate, where Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may filibuster the bill because the investigation would probably not look great for the Republican Party.
The bill would establish a “National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex,” with five members appointed by Republicans, five by Democrats, and a final report due to the White House and Congress by the end of the year.
The panel’s appointees would have to come from outside of government and have “national recognition and significant depth of experience” in fields like public service, law enforcement, technology and counterterrorism.
The bill was written by House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.).
Some things about the riot are already well-known, such as the fact that Trump incited the violence by lying for months that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. Many Republican lawmakers repeated the lies, and most voted against certifying on election results even after the mob attack on Jan. 6.
But Republicans have sought to rewrite history. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said the president didn’t provoke the attack. Other Republicans have suggested the mob consisted of “fake Trump supporters” or that the violent storming of the Capitol wasn’t so bad.
Both McCarthy and McConnell have said the commission ought to examine riots connected to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, as though protests against police brutality had something to do with an insurrection against valid election results. The text of the bill would already task the commission with examining “the influencing factors that fomented” the attack, which could include Black Lives Matter if the panel’s experts think it is relevant. Republicans don’t think that’s good enough.
Trump, too, has insisted the commission is a sham because it does not deal with unrelated matters.
“It is just more partisan unfairness and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.
Even though Republicans opposed the bill, relatively few actually spoke out against it on the House floor. One who did was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a Trump ally who was previously stripped of committee assignments for extremist and hateful speech and was recently in the news for harassing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Greene argued that the commission was unnecessary.
“The media is going to use this to smear Trump supporters and President Trump for the next few years and cover up the damage ― the real damage ― that’s happening to the people of this country,” Greene said on the House floor.
Thompson said it was a “big shock” to him and others when McCarthy announced his opposition to the bill this week. He told reporters that McCarthy had been engaged in the bill’s development from the start and was supportive of it behind the scenes.
“There was no issue on his part,” Thompson said. “But, I guess that’s politics.”
Republicans opposed the bill in spite of urging from a group of Capitol Police officers, who released an anonymous letter not long before the vote expressing “profound disappointment” with Republican leaders for saying a commission was unneeded. The letter came from a group of officers, according to Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (D-Md.) office. The U.S. Capitol Police said it was not an official statement from the department and that USCP does not take positions on legislation.
“It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect, would downplay the events of January 6th. ... It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that ‘it wasn’t that bad,’” the letter reads. “That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members.”
A bipartisan commission would lay down an authoritative account of what happened and make recommendations for policy changes to prevent it from happening again. That’s what Congress did after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it’s something leaders of both parties have previously said would be appropriate for Jan. 6, 2021.
But on Wednesday, McConnell said the ongoing investigations by the Justice Department and congressional committees should suffice. “It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress,” McConnell said. (The 9/11 commission also complemented existing congressional and law enforcement investigations. )
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed McConnell’s claims that a Jan. 6 commission would be duplicative of congressional work on the issue. On the contrary, she said, congressional investigations can only help the independent panel collect all the information it will review.
A bipartisan commission “commands the respect of the American people by dint of the caliber of people who will serve on it,” she told reporters. “I certainly could call for hearings in the House with a majority of the members being Democrats with full subpoena power, with the agenda being determined by the Democrats. But that’s not the path we have chosen to go.”
Asked if she’s reserving the right to take that other path, Pelosi replied, “I don’t want to.”
Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, endorsed the Thompson-Katko bill.
“Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened,” the pair said Wednesday. “As we did in the wake of September 11, it’s time to set aside partisan politics and come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice.”
Elise Foley contributed reporting.