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 TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE, it would almost certainly prompt Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy raised 0K after marathon speech Davis passes on bid for governor in Illinois, running for reelection to House Feehery: Why Democrats are now historically unpopular 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.
“Without the commission, where conservatives are guaranteed an equal voice, Democrats like [Rep. Jerry] Nadler [D-N.Y.], [Rep. Adam] Schiff [D-Calif.] 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 KatkoSunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist Lawmakers increasingly anxious about US efforts against Russian hackers GOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting 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 ThompsonJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Meadows reaches initial cooperation deal with Jan. 6 committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat 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 McCarthyOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats McCarthy raised 0K after marathon speech Dem leader calls on GOP to 'cleanse' itself after Boebert comments 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 McConnellSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Schumer eyeing Build Back Better vote as soon as week of Dec. 13 MORE (R-Ky.) is also opposed it, 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 BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE's desk.
“This commission could go on for years, and so I don't think it's necessary,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Mental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (R-Texas) said Tuesday.
Only two Senate Republicans have come out in support of the House legislation: Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyNo deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead MORE (R-Utah) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCongress should reject H.R. 1619's dangerous anywhere, any place casino precedent Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks MORE (R-Alaska), both of whom had voted to convict Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 attack during his impeachment trial in February.
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 GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback 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 HollingsworthGOP gambles with Pelosi in opposing Jan. 6 commission The 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 MORE (R-Ind.) said after voting in favor of the commission.
“That’s an easy choice for me,” he added.
Republicans are well acquainted with the political power of public investigations into political rivals in pivotal election years.
In 2014, they created a special panel to examine Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future 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 Democratic' 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 WomackArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Funding fight imperils National Guard ops Overnight Defense: 6B Pentagon spending bill advances | Navy secretary nominee glides through hearing | Obstacles mount in Capitol security funding fight MORE (R-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.
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 ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan Pence-linked group launches 0K ad campaign in West Virginia praising Manchin Democrats push tax credits to bolster clean energy MORE (W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaPence-linked group launches 0K ad campaign in West Virginia praising Manchin Schumer eyeing Build Back Better vote as soon as week of Dec. 13 Bottom line 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.
“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 BurrTexas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term On The Money — IRS chief calls for reinforcements Burr brother-in-law ordered to testify in insider trading probe 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 TillisOvernight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' Republicans press Milley over perceived progressive military agenda Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA 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.”