Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed Tuesday to hold a vote on legislation forming a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, daring Republicans to oppose an effort that has bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.
“Republicans can let their constituents know, are they on the side of truth [or] want to cover up for the insurrectionists and for Donald Trump?” Schumer asked at a weekly press conference.
Last week, lawmakers reached a bipartisan deal in the House to form a 9/11-style bipartisan panel made up of unelected experts to probe the deadly attack on the Capitol by hundreds of supporters of the former president. Each party would choose an equal number of members, and any subpoena issued would need approval from both the chair and vice chair of the commission — a major concession by Democrats.
But Republicans showed more signs of disarray on Tuesday. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) came out against the commission in a statement, saying it needed to focus on unrelated events prior to Jan. 6. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, said GOP members were considering whether to support it.
“We are undecided about the way forward at this point,” McConnell said. “We want to read the fine print.”
Both McConnell and McCarthy said they worried a commission might interfere with the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the riot, which has so far resulted in criminal charges against more than 400 people.
McCarthy reiterated his previous complaint that the proposed commission has a “shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America.” In other words, McCarthy wants the commission to lay some blame for the Capitol riot on violence related to Black Lives Matter protests last year.
McConnell has also previously said he would want a Jan. 6 commission to look at Black Lives Matter, but he refused to say so on Tuesday.
“We are discussing this whole matter in our conference,” McConnell said when asked if he would accept a commission narrowly focused on the Capitol riot. “We are evaluating what is appropriate given where we are and I don’t have an answer beyond that.”
Contrary to McCarthy’s claim that the commission has an overly narrow scope, nothing in the legislation would prohibit the panel from examining past political violence if it’s somehow relevant. The legislation, by Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.), calls on the commission to investigate the facts and causes of the attack, “as well as the influencing factors that fomented such attack on American representative democracy while engaged in a constitutional process.”
The House is expected to pass the bill later this week.
Schumer’s pledge to move forward with a vote on a Jan. 6 commission puts Republicans in a difficult position. If the GOP decides to filibuster the commission, it would be their first use of the filibuster in this Congress, handing Democrats a talking point in their efforts to eliminate the chamber’s long-standing supermajority requirement.
But allowing the commission to proceed carries risks for the GOP as well. For one, it would almost certainly anger Trump, who continues to lie about the 2020 election and hold the party hostage by doling out critical endorsements in primaries for the midterm elections next year.
More broadly, scuttling a bipartisan commission on the attack at the Capitol could lead Democrats to question the Republican Party’s sincerity to reach a compromise entirely, especially in ongoing negotiations over infrastructure, police reform and gun control legislation. Some progressives are already urging President Joe Biden’s administration to give up trying to reach a deal on infrastructure legislation, given how far apart the parties are on the scope of the problem.
“If the Republican leaders are just going to throw their lead negotiators under the bus, why do they even participate in negotiations?” Schumer asked Tuesday.