Democrats seize on GOP opposition to Jan. 6 commission
Democrats are hammering Republicans over their opposition to a Jan. 6 commission as they look to retain control of Congress next year.
Hopes for a bipartisan panel to investigate the deadly riot at the Capitol earlier this year were dashed when Republican leadership came out against the idea, casting it as a partisan maneuver.
But some Democrats believe there may be a silver lining in the recent development, seeing the GOP’s sharp reversal on the issue as a way to bolster support ahead of the midterm elections.
“If you want to talk about where House majorities rise and fall, it’s in swing districts, and swing voters look at facts and reason,” Jon Reinish, a New York-based Democratic strategist, said. “They saw this happen. It is impossible for the American public to forget Jan. 6, because everybody watched it unfold in real time on TV in an unfiltered way.”
Reinish accused Republicans of engaging in a kind of “historical revisionism” in an effort to appease former President Trump, who was impeached in January for his role in inciting the riot. He said that GOP lawmakers will have to be prepared to answer “over and over again why your party is trying to block this investigation.”
“A commission seemed inevitable for a long time,” he said. “Republicans, I think to their determinant, have taken a short-term view of ‘anything Donald Trump doesn’t want, we don’t want.’”
The creation of such a commission once looked promising, with some top Republicans expressing openness to the idea. That changed this week, however, when GOP leaders came out against the effort, fearing that it could drag scrutiny of the Capitol riot into 2022, when Republicans are hoping to recapture their majorities in the House and Senate.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber, hinted at the GOP concerns about a prolonged investigation into the events of Jan. 6, saying this week that Republicans want their midterm message to focus on “jobs and wages and the economy and national security, safe streets … not relitigating the 2020 elections.”
“A lot of our members, and I think it is true of a lot of the House Republicans, want to be moving forward,” Thune said. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election, I think, is a day lost.”
But Democrats have signaled they won’t let Republicans shift the conversation away from Jan. 6. Party officials and lawmakers have sent out a flurry of fundraising emails in recent days, pledging to hold the GOP to account over their opposition to the commission.
“I’m not giving up — I’m going to do everything I can to ensure Congress establishes a January 6 Commission to determine the full facts of what happened on that fateful day, and take action to make sure it never happens again,” one recent fundraising email from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reads.
The legislation at hand would create a 10-person commission, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, to investigate the Jan. 6 riot and the circumstances surrounding it. The panel would report its findings by Dec. 31.
The House ultimately voted 252 to 175 on Wednesday to create the commission, with 35 Republicans crossing party lines to approve the measure.
But the effort is likely to face a difficult path in the Senate. A number of Republicans who once suggested that they could support the commission have walked back their remarks, making it unlikely that Democrats will win over the 10 GOP votes needed to break a filibuster.
Democrats have cast the sudden reversals by Republicans as a sign that they fear retribution from Trump, who has spoken out publicly in opposition to the commission — something he described this week as a “Democratic trap.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who represents a competitive district that includes parts of Lansing, said that Republican opponents of the commission were only concerned that it would become “weaponized” in the midterms, describing GOP lawmakers as “scared of their base” of voters.
“This is the time when you put on your big boy pants and you do what you need to do for the country,” she told CNN on Thursday. “The country needs to understand what happened on Jan. 6 so that it doesn’t happen again.”
“I’m sorry that the midterms are something that are prohibiting people from doing the right thing,” she added. “But I don’t accept that as an excuse.”
In many ways, Republicans are heading into 2022 with an advantage.
They need to flip only about a half-dozen seats in the House and just one in the Senate next year to recapture control of Congress. Decennial redistricting appears to favor the GOP. And history shows that the party of a new president — in this case the Democrats — tends to lose ground in the midterms.
But the GOP is also still racked by internal divisions stemming from the Jan. 6 riot and the continued influence of Trump over the party and its most loyal voters. In a move that was seen as symbolic of Trump’s current way over the party, House Republicans voted last week to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her leadership position over her criticism of the former president.
Republicans facing potentially tough reelection bids next year have yet to agree on exactly how to proceed when it comes to the Jan. 6 riot and the current calls for a bipartisan investigation into the matter.
Of the 22 House Republicans currently on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list for 2022, only nine voted in favor of the commission. Some of those who opposed the creation of the commission represent competitive districts that President Biden won last year.
“I think it’s a gamble. Do you stick with Trump’s line on the riots or do you come at it head-on and say we need to keep looking into what happened?” one veteran Republican strategist said, adding: “There’s going to be ads from the Democrats showing people tearing apart the Capitol, no doubt about it.”
Reinish, the Democratic strategist, echoed that prediction, saying that Democrats were poised to play offense over the Jan. 6 commission.
“I think you have those ads ready,” Reinish said. “And I think that they write themselves.”