House

Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous'

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said her proposal to install a Democratic majority on the investigative Jan. 6 commission is rooted in historic precedent and the simple prerogatives of sitting presidents.

But rank-and-file Democrats are citing a very different reason they don't want the panel's power split evenly between the parties: They simply don't trust Republicans to investigate an attack on the Capitol that, in the eyes of livid Democrats, was kindled by those same GOP lawmakers.

"We do not owe delusional deniers a role or a platform in a commission designed to try to ferret out extremism and violence to prevent its recurrence," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who had predicted the Jan. 6 violence based on the rhetoric from then-President Trump and his GOP allies. "These people are dangerous."

Connolly's view is hardly unique. 

In the weeks since a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to block the results of the presidential election, Democrats have been indignant over the conduct of their Republican colleagues before, during and after the siege. Not only had the majority of Republicans adopted Trump's false claim that the election was "stolen," many also endorsed formal court challenges to overturn the election results in some states, then cheered the thousands of demonstrators in Washington on Jan. 6 to protest President Biden's ascension to the White House. 

After hundreds of those protesters rampaged through the Capitol - threatening to assassinate both then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers and killing a Capitol Police officer - 139 House Republicans voted to nullify the election results in Arizona, Pennsylvania or both. Since then, a number of Republicans have asserted, without evidence, that left-wing activists - not Trump supporters - had conducted the siege. 

"They're denying that the Trump mob was the Trump mob," fumed Connolly. 

Infuriated Democrats have struggled to find an outlet for their rage. 

"Across the caucus there are a lot of members - independent of ideology, from the most conservative Democrats to the most liberal Democrats - really asking ourselves: what does it mean when a member votes against the very election they were sent to Congress in? And what kinds of consequences should that have?" said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

"The ultimate goal is for there to be actual accountability."

Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) on Monday attempted to punish election-rejecting Republicans by denying fast-track privileges for one such lawmaker seeking to rename a district post office - a routine process that typically proceeds without controversy. Yet only 14 other Democrats joined Casten in the vote; most others warned of the "unintended consequences" of tinkering with fast-track procedures. 

"Probably that's not the mountain we want to die on here," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). 

The special commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack has become a vehicle that Democrats hope will shed light on which lawmakers, if any, helped the insurrectionists in the attack. 

"When we can actually see the information, I think we're in a much more powerful position then to pursue accountability," said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

The new commission is expected to be loosely modeled on the bipartisan panel that investigated the 9/11 attacks, which was renowned for its bipartisan cooperation.

The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is a much more divisive topic. It was carried out by Trump supporters, and conservatives have continued to raise false claims about the integrity of the 2020 election, including at the Conservative Political Action Conference. On Friday, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) took part in a panel on "Protecting Elections: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence."

Negotiations over the Jan. 6 commission have bogged down over the scope of the probe and composition of membership. Pelosi has proposed that Democrats would seat seven panelists, and Republicans would choose four others - a lopsided roster that's been roundly rejected by GOP leaders.  

"The only reason anything [is] not happening is because of the politics of Pelosi," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Friday. "She wants it one sided."

Most Democrats have raced to the Speaker's defense. Ocasio-Cortez, who's accused Republicans of trying to have her assassinated on Jan. 6, questioned why McCarthy should even be able to appoint members of the panel when he voted to overturn the election hours after the attack, then flew down to Florida to visit Trump just days after Trump left office. 

"I wouldn't be surprised to see him appoint Jim Jordan. And so then you have the foxes in the henhouse," said Ocasio-Cortez, referring to the conservative Freedom Caucus leader and top Trump ally. "I think that the structure that Speaker Pelosi has proposed is a fair one."

Not all Democrats believe Republicans can't be trusted with their picks. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, broke with Pelosi and said on CNN that the 1/6 commission should be evenly divided, just like the previous 9/11 commission.  

And moderate Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) uttered four words you rarely hear from a Democrat: "I trust Mitch McConnell."

"I think he sincerely believes that it was an atrocity against our country and against this institution, and that he believes Donald Trump was primarily responsible. I don't think that was an act," Malinowski said of McConnell's impassioned floor speech this month calling Trump "morally responsible" for the attack. 

McConnell "may have chickened out of holding Trump accountable through conviction but I don't question the sincerity of his belief that Jan. 6 was an atrocity," Malinowski added, "and I would imagine that he would appoint commissioners who broadly share that view."

McConnell on Thursday, however, just weeks after saying Trump was morally responsible for the attack, said he would back the former president if he won the GOP nomination in 2024.

Republicans say the fact that Pelosi and progressives are focused on the committee ratios proves they want a partisan outcome. They're concerned the Democrats' intent is simply to drag Trump and Republicans through the mud, over and over, ahead of the 2022 elections.  

"What are they going to vote on? I mean, you want an answer. You want to find out why, how, where, when," said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), who as a teenager met President John F. Kennedy just two hours before he was assassinated, a national tragedy that led to the creation of the bipartisan Warren Commission.

"You're not trying to beat up somebody," he said. "Let's find out what caused this and keep it from happening. This is not a beatdown for crying out loud."

Other rank-and-file Republicans say they just want to put Jan. 6 in the rear-view mirror and get back to legislating. They want the 7-foot fence surrounding the Capitol complex to come down, along with the magnetometers that Pelosi installed at the entrances to the House chamber to prevent Republicans from bringing firearms on the floor. 

"Most of us are just ready to move on and get some things done. That's the way most people feel," said Rep. Richard Hudson (N.C.), one of the 139 Republicans who voted to overturn the election. "Things like these magnetometers that the Capitol Police and sergeant-at-arms say serve no security purpose - I think people are tired of it."

Democrats don't want to move on without a reckoning with the causes and consequences of the Capitol siege. It's the reason they say the Jan. 6 commission is needed - and the reason they want the panel to tilt in their favor. 

"An overwhelming majority of their House members voted for a process that incited this mob," Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), one of the Democrats who prosecuted Trump's second impeachment, told MSNBC on Thursday. "So I'm a little bit nervous about giving too much influence to members of Congress who essentially are now asking to have oversight for an event that they are partially responsible for inciting."

 

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