Republicans are lining up to block the creation of an independent panel to investigate the Capitol attack of Jan. 6. But the strategy is not without risks.
While sinking the commission would satisfy the Republicans’ short-term objective of appeasing former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lashes out after grand jury seated for New York criminal probe Schumer tees up vote on Jan. 6 commission bill Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission MORE, it would almost certainly prompt Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP leaders face new calls to boot Greene Biden, Bass press for police reform after meeting Floyd family Kinzinger calls for Greene to be removed from GOP conference after Holocaust remark MORE (D-Calif.) to launch a special investigation of her own — one that could play to the long-term advantage of Democrats heading into the 2022 midterms.
Not only would a select committee allow the majority Democrats to steer the process, including decisions surrounding the issuance of subpoenas. It would also empower Pelosi to extend the investigation well into next year, heightening the political potency of its findings ahead of elections when control of both chambers is up for grabs and Republicans are eyeing a return to power.
Those dynamics have not been overlooked by some GOP lawmakers, who are pressing for the outside investigation as the GOP’s best chance to examine the events of Jan. 6 without the partisan leanings of a congressional probe.
“Without the commission, where conservatives are guaranteed an equal voice, Democrats like [Jerrold] Nadler, [Adam] Schiff and Pelosi will be driving the narrative in a Dem-led investigation just like they’ve done in the past,” said Rep. Stephanie Bice, a first-term Oklahoma Republican who voted in favor of the commission.
Negotiating on behalf of House Republicans, Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoIs lawmaking today a game of principals? Biden should stop trying to placate Republicans on Jan. 6 commission — just look to Chile McCarthy, McConnell drive over their lieutenants to stop bipartisan Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-N.Y.) had fought successfully to diminish any partisan edge surrounding the Jan. 6 investigative panel, which was modeled on the 9/11 commission. In crafting legislation with Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDHS to require pipeline companies to report cyberattacks Is lawmaking today a game of principals? Bipartisanship is dead — Republicans killed it MORE (D-Miss.), Katko secured requirements for equal representation on the commission; bipartisan support for subpoenas; and a sunset date of Dec. 31, more than 10 months before midterm voters head to the polls.
Yet that proposal was rejected by House Republican leaders, including Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyGOP leaders face new calls to boot Greene Kinzinger calls for Greene to be removed from GOP conference after Holocaust remark Auschwitz Memorial calls Greene Holocaust comments a ‘sad symptom of moral and intellectual decline’ MORE (Calif.), who said that, despite Katko’s efforts, it was overly partisan and would duplicate other investigations into Jan. 6.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer tees up vote on Jan. 6 commission bill Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission GOP leaders face new calls to boot Greene MORE (R-Ky.) is also opposed, saying the House proposal, which passed last week with help from 35 Republicans, is “slanted and unbalanced.”
McConnell’s position has led other Senate Republicans to announce their opposition and dimmed the prospects that the bill can win over the 10 GOP senators needed to defeat a filibuster and send the proposal to President BidenJoe BidenAmerican held in Russia contracts COVID-19 after denied vaccine Biden defends waiving sanctions against Nord Stream Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission MORE‘s desk.
“This commission could go on for years, and so I don’t think it’s necessary,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Overnight Health Care: Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in 12- to 17-year-olds | US achieves full vaccinations for half of adults | Trump on Wuhan lab: Now everyone agrees ‘I was right’ Senate confirms Biden pick to lead Medicare, Medicaid office MORE (R-Texas) said Tuesday.
Only two Senate Republicans have come out in support of the House legislation: Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySchumer tees up vote on Jan. 6 commission bill Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Manchin, Sinema press GOP senators on Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-Utah) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchumer tees up vote on Jan. 6 commission bill Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Overnight Health Care: Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in 12- to 17-year-olds | US achieves full vaccinations for half of adults | Trump on Wuhan lab: Now everyone agrees ‘I was right’ MORE (R-Alaska), both of whom had voted to convict Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 attack during his impeachment trial in February.
A third Republican, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchumer tees up vote on Jan. 6 commission bill Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Overnight Health Care: Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in 12- to 17-year-olds | US achieves full vaccinations for half of adults | Trump on Wuhan lab: Now everyone agrees ‘I was right’ MORE (Maine), is also supportive of the commission concept, but wants to tweak the House language to address staffing concerns and other “flaws” she sees in the initial bill.
Even with those changes, however, the legislation faces a steep climb in the Senate, where Republican opponents appear to have the numbers to block it.
“This thing’s just got politics written all over it,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Police reform fight hinges on qualified immunity On The Money: White House counters with .7 trillion infrastructure proposal, GOP unimpressed | USDA to start loan forgiveness for thousands of minority farmers MORE (R-S.C.). “Anything in this election cycle is probably not gonna work and it seems to me that people are already playing it as a political weapon.”
Yet GOP proponents of the commission are warning that the real political weapon would be a select committee, created by Pelosi, led by Democrats and conducted by sitting lawmakers.
“We are left with only two choices: A bipartisan investigation with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, or a Pelosi commission focused on repeating the media’s narrative,” Rep. Trey HollingsworthJoseph (Trey) Albert HollingsworthThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump campaign tweet of Biden clip as manipulated media | Democrats demand in-person election security briefings resume | Proposed rules to protect power grid raise concerns Lawmakers call for bipartisan push to support scientific research MORE (R-Ind.) said after voting in favor of the commission.
“That’s an easy choice for me.”
Republicans are well acquainted with the political power of pubic probes into political rivals in pivotal election years.
In 2014, they created a special panel to examine Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton takes on conspiracy theories on Borat special Top general: Russia, China will look to expand influence in Middle East as US pulls back We have a chance to halt climate change if we stop destroying carbon sinks and cut methane MORE‘s role in the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton, the former secretary of State, later became the Democrats’ presidential nominee, and the long-drawn investigation — which generated headlines through the length of the 2016 campaign — was thought to be a factor in her defeat to Trump.
Five weeks after that election, Republicans disbanded the Benghazi panel.
GOP lawmakers are pointing to another reason an independent commission might prove advantageous to Republicans: They suspect Pelosi was more involved in the Jan. 6 security planning than she’s acknowledged, and they want the outside investigators to reveal any shortcomings in her security designs.
“Many unanswered questions remain — not the least of which are decisions out of the Speaker’s office regarding actionable intelligence apparently ignored prior to the event,” said Rep. Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel Pentagon considers ending massive computing contract: report Marjorie Taylor Greene’s delay tactics frustrate GOP MORE (Ark.), explaining his “yes” vote on the commission. “We need those answers.”
Pelosi, for her part, has continued pressing for the 9/11-style commission even as opposition has mounted in the Senate.
“I don’t want to weaken that position,” she said last week.
But she’s also hinted that Plan B would be the creation of a select congressional committee, which would almost certainly give her more control over the process.
“Everybody knows what my options are. They are no secret,” she said.
To Pelosi’s advantage, the commission issue is not controversial among Democrats.
House Democrats voted unanimously last week to approve the Thompson-Katko bill. And the party’s Senate centrists, Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSchumer tees up vote on Jan. 6 commission bill Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Manchin, Sinema press GOP senators on Jan. 6 commission MORE (W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSchumer tees up vote on Jan. 6 commission bill Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Manchin, Sinema press GOP senators on Jan. 6 commission MORE (Ariz.), are pressing Republicans to get on board, forecasting a similar Democratic unity in the upper chamber when the bill comes to the floor, which is expected as early as this week.
For Republicans, Jan. 6 is a much thornier issue.
Not only was the attack carried out by Trump supporters hoping to block Biden’s victory, but the former president retains enormous popularity among GOP voters, the majority of whom have embraced his false claims that he’s the rightful president. Indeed, a new Ipsos/Reuters poll found that 53 percent of Republican voters think the election was stolen from him.
“I always knew America was smart!” he said Tuesday in a statement.
Trump has denied any role in the Jan. 6 attack and opposes any exploration of the events leading up to it, which has piled additional pressure on Republicans to reject the independent commission working its way through Congress. And even Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Health Care: Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in 12- to 17-year-olds | US achieves full vaccinations for half of adults | Trump on Wuhan lab: Now everyone agrees ‘I was right’ Manchin, Sinema press GOP senators on Jan. 6 commission Murkowski to back Jan. 6 commission bill MORE (N.C.), one of the seven Senate Republicans to support Trump’s impeachment, has announced his opposition.
“It sounds like a political exercise to me,” Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Equality is for all God’s children: Black, brown, white, straight and LGBTQ MORE (R-N.C.) said Tuesday.
For those Republicans promoting the legislation, however, an outside commission is the party’s last best shot at getting a fair shake in an investigative process that’s certain to proceed even without it.
“This commission is not about President Trump,” said Bice. “This is about the lack of oversight at the Capitol, ensuring such an event never happens again, and that conservatives have an equal say in the process.”