WASHINGTON ― The United States came closer to losing its democracy on Jan. 6 than ever before in its 234-year history, but Republican opposition may prevent Americans from ever seeing an independent investigation of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol that was incited by then-President Donald Trump in his last-ditch attempt to remain in power.
Both House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell want to roll Trump’s unprecedented attempt to reverse a presidential election into a wide-ranging look at unrest, including that associated with civil rights protests and violence perpetrated by anarchists.
“The scope of it needs to deal with a little bit broader than just January the 6th. We’ve also had a number of violent disturbances around the country last year,” McConnell, of Kentucky, said last month.
McCarthy, of California, agreed. “I think if you’re going to have a commission, you should look at the whole broad spectrum. We just went through a whole summer of riots throughout the city.”
Other Republicans, though, have a different explanation: that nothing good for Trump and his allies will come from digging into the events of that day and what led to them.
“There is real concern among a number of members of my own party about a Jan. 6 commission,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told NBC News on Wednesday, the same day she was thrown out of GOP leadership for standing up to Trump’s continued lies about the election having been “stolen” from him. “I think that that kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing.”
David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida who served with McCarthy, said the leader’s phone call with Trump on Jan. 6 ― in which he reportedly pleaded with Trump to call off his mob, only to have Trump tell him that the protesters obviously cared more about the election results than McCarthy did ― was something the House minority leader does not want to testify about.
“Kevin McCarthy being a focus of the Jan. 6 investigation is very bad for Kevin McCarthy,” Jolly said. “The ability to topple our republic was within reach on Jan. 6…. There’re a lot of Republicans with unclean hands.”
McConnell’s office did not respond to HuffPost queries Thursday about Cheney’s remarks. Matt Sparks, a House GOP spokesman, said McCarthy’s views are unchanged. “It should include thorough investigation into political violence of the last year, especially the political violence that tragically took the life of Officer Evans on Good Friday,” he said, referring to William Evans, a U.S. Capitol Police officer who died when a mentally troubled former college football player rammed a car into him and a second officer on April 2.
The emphasis on that incident, though, actually highlights the marked contrast between all of the episodes Republicans want to talk about and Jan. 6.
Evans’s assailant acted on his own. The rioting and looting last summer was committed at the fringes of major protests that followed the murder of a Black man by a police officer in Minneapolis. The ongoing violence in cities including Portland, Oregon, has been committed by anarchists with little discernible purpose.
The mob attack on Jan. 6, on the other hand, had a clear goal: to let Trump remain in office despite having lost the November election by 7 million votes. Trump began lying about the results early on Nov. 4, claiming he had won in “a landslide” but that the victory was being taken from him. After losing a long string of lawsuits seeking to challenge the results in a number of states and after the Electoral College made Democrat Joe Biden’s 306-232 win official on Dec. 14, Trump urged his followers to converge on Washington on Jan. 6, the day Congress would certify that vote total.
At a rally near the White House, Trump told his supporters to march on the Capitol to intimidate his own vice president and Congress into rejecting enough states Biden had won, allowing Trump to end up with more electoral votes and declare victory.
When Mike Pence refused Trump’s demands and instead followed the law and the Constitution to declare Biden the winner, an enraged Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
His mob responded by searching for Pence in the building, chanting “Hang Mike Pence” as they roamed the hallways.
It marked the first time in the nation’s history that a president tried to avoid leaving office using the threat of violence, and Trump was impeached for it ― marking his second impeachment, a historic first ― within days.
Joe Walsh, a former GOP congressman from Illinois, said that timeline alone shows why Republicans who are still beholden to Trump don’t want an investigation. “A commission will reveal the truth: The truth about what Trump did, the truth about how Republicans aided him, and, sadly, the truth about much of their voting base,” he said.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that, though she has been flexible on certain issues, such as the makeup of the panel and its subpoena power, she will not compromise on its scope to broaden it to unrelated areas.
“We’re not going down that path,” she said.
She added that, notwithstanding the current impasse, she hopes there can be a bipartisan agreement to investigate, just as there was 20 years ago with the creation of a Sept. 11 commission to investigate how terrorists were able to hijack airliners and crash them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“As I said earlier, it’s important for us to have it be as bipartisan as possible, so the public has the most confidence in the results of it,” Pelosi said.
On Wednesday, though, some GOP House members claimed ― all eyewitness evidence and thousands of hours of recorded video notwithstanding ― that the Jan. 6 insurrection was not really an insurrection but just typical Washington visitors who were walking around the building and were now being unfairly hounded by the Justice Department.
“The DOJ is harassing ― harassing ― peaceful patriots across the country,” said Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).
“You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,” added Georgia’s Andrew Clyde.
The White House would not say whether President Biden would appoint his own Jan. 6 commission if congressional Republicans refuse to support one. “There is strong support among many members of Congress in a commission, which is obviously something we also support from this administration,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “So I’m not going to stand here and predict failure or get ahead of that process that’s ongoing.”
Miles Taylor, a homeland security official in the Trump administration who is now working to create a new party of anti-Trump Republicans, said the refusal of congressional Republicans to support a Jan. 6 investigation speaks volumes. “What’s sad is that more Republicans are willing to put politics over country, believing that because it was ‘their’ supporters, that the insurrection doesn’t merit inquiry,” he said, adding that Cheney’s warnings about Trump’s continued lies need to be heeded. “If this persists, it will mean continued violence and threats to our democracy. This is the issue of our time.”