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Democrats debate shape of new Jan. 6 probe

House Democrats mulling their next steps for investigating the Capitol attack of Jan. 6 have reached at least one early verdict: Doing nothing is not an option.

Five months after the rampage, Democrats remain shaken by the violence, resentful of Republicans blocking probes into it and devoted to launching a deep-dive examination — even if that means going it alone.

“It's up to us to figure out how we proceed, but we must proceed,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDemocrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe Tlaib, Democrats slam GOP calls for border oversight to fight opioid crisis Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' MORE (D-Va.). “This is one of the most critical events in American history; this is only the second time the United States Capitol has been under assault physically, and it was from fellow Americans.”

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The debate over how to investigate the Jan. 6 attack has shifted internally after Senate Republicans, pressured by former President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE, blocked bipartisan legislation to create an independent, 9/11-style commission examining the deadly riot. The attack was inspired by Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen, which prompted a mob of his supporters to try to prevent Congress’s certification of his election defeat.

In a call this week with House Democrats, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Tim Cook called Pelosi to say tech antitrust bills were rushed MORE (D-Calif.) floated four different routes Congress could take: have the Senate vote again on the House-passed bill to create an outside commission; form a select House committee, consisting of lawmakers hand-picked by leaders in both parties; allow several sitting committees to continue their probes into Jan. 6; or empower a single House committee, like Homeland Security or Oversight and Reform, to take the lead on the investigation.

Some Democrats who sit on the House Homeland Security Committee argued that their panel should take on an expanded role in the investigation.

“The Homeland Security Committee has been committed, in a bipartisan manner, to finding facts about Jan. 6 and preventing another attack on our Capitol,” Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerBipartisan lawmakers introduce bill targeting Hamas financing, citing bitcoin donations Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Omar feuds with Jewish Democrats MORE (D-N.J.) told The Hill on Thursday. “The committee has a long track record of constructive bipartisan work for what’s best for our country.”

After all, it was Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDHS considering asylum for migrants whose cases were terminated under Trump Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack Lobbying world MORE (D-Miss.) and New York Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoBipartisan lawmakers highlight COVID-19 impact on mental health, addiction Overnight Health Care: White House acknowledges it will fall short of July 4 vaccine goal | Fauci warns of 'localized surges' in areas with low vaccination rates | Senate Finance leader releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices Trump offers to back Katko challenger after impeachment vote MORE, the panel’s top Republican, who unexpectedly cut a deal last month on legislation to create an independent commission, evenly split with five Democrats and five Republicans and with equal subpoena power. 

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Thirty-five Republicans joined all Democrats in passing the bill through the House, even as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyTech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — A new final frontier: Washing dirty laundry in space White House uses Trump's words praising China to slam McCarthy's Biden criticism MORE (R-Calif.) and his leadership team came out against it. That bipartisan vote was a testament to the work of Thompson, a genial, soft-spoken Southerner, and Katko, chairman of a centrist GOP caucus that previously was known as the Tuesday Group.

Other Democrats agreed the Homeland Security Committee should take the investigative lead, noting that the panel would have a head start in probing Jan. 6 and that Thompson and Katko would lend a degree of bipartisan credibility to an issue that’s been plagued by partisanship.

“I'd be open to the two of them working toward accommodation,” said Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchShakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' Democrats debate shape of new Jan. 6 probe On the Money: Tech giants face rising pressure from shareholder activists | House Democrats urge IRS to reverse Trump-era rule reducing donor disclosure | Sen. Warren, Jamie Dimon spar over overdraft fees at Senate hearing MORE (D-Vt.), who serves on the Oversight and Reform and the Intelligence committees. “They've shown that they have the desire and the ability to do that.”

The Thompson-Katko bill wasn’t received as well in the Senate. With threats from Trump and an aggressive whip effort by Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCan Manchin answer his predecessor's call on voting rights? Biden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' Democrats' narrow chance to retain control after 2022 MORE (R-Ky.), Republicans rallied to block the House-passed bill. Yet backers of the Jan. 6 commission came close: Six Republicans crossed the aisle; a seventh, Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.), said he would have voted "yes" if he hadn’t missed the vote. 

That meant Democrats came just three votes shy — well within striking distance — of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.

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Some Democrats think they could pick up three more Republican votes, especially with the mother of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after battling rioters on Jan. 6, aggressively lobbying lawmakers to create the commission. And they want Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill MORE (D-N.Y.) to call another vote soon on the House-passed bill.

The creation of a special committee also has its supporters. Pelosi has already formed such panels to examine climate change and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. And Republicans had used the concept to potent political effect heading into the 2016 elections, when their select Benghazi committee spent years targeting former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCommunion vote puts spotlight on Hispanic Catholics Trump's biggest political obstacle is Trump The Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them MORE, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.

“If Republicans won’t join us to protect our democracy, we have an obligation to do it ourselves,” Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.), a member of the House Administration Committee, said in pushing for a select committee.

Yet others are warning that formation of a select committee would lend too much power to McCarthy, who has shifted from holding Trump responsible for the Jan. 6 attack to embracing the former president as a crucial ally in the GOP’s effort to flip control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections. In such a case, McCarthy is in line for the Speakership.

“I think McCarthy would probably appoint people from the Sedition Caucus,” said Connolly, referring to the 139 House Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election results just hours after the Capitol came under siege.

Although McCarthy was among the first lawmakers to promote a 9/11-style investigation — and delegated Katko to lead the GOP negotiations — he has since reversed course to oppose the concept as “duplicative and potentially counterproductive,” a turnaround that caught even Katko by surprise.

Democrats have rejected the notion that an additional probe would be redundant, pointing to a number of questions surrounding Jan. 6 that remain outstanding. Among those questions are the details of what Trump was doing that day, why he took so long to call off the mob, what exactly was said between Trump and McCarthy during a phone call in the midst of the attack and what communications, if any, members of Congress had with the rioters before and during the rampage.

“I don't believe the Republicans have much standing, having just defeated having any investigation at all,” said Connolly.

Connolly, for one, is pushing a fifth investigative option: having President BidenJoe BidenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Biden appoints veteran housing, banking regulator as acting FHFA chief Iran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' MORE, by executive order, create a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, similar to the Warren Commission that was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

“We've had presidential commissions in the past; they command a lot of authority and respect,” Connolly said. “They elevate the issue, and the president could pick known Republicans, as well as Democrats, who are statesmen and stateswomen who care about this country.”

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Yet Pelosi has all but ruled out the idea, raising concerns about the lack of subpoena power. And others are citing what they see as another disadvantage to a presidential commission: It would put Biden in the tough spot of investigating someone — Trump — who could potentially be his challenger in 2024.

"The president doesn't want to get in the middle of this,” Welch told The Hill. “He's got a day job."

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' On The Money: Biden to fire FHFA director after Supreme Court removes restriction | Yellen pleads with Congress to raise debt ceiling Biden emphasizes investment in police, communities to combat crime MORE also threw cold water on a presidential commission, saying that since Congress was targeted on Jan. 6, it has “a unique role and ability to carry out that investigation.”

Amid the debate, a number of Republican lawmakers are openly denying that there ever was rampant violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Others maintain, falsely, that there were no weapons brought into the Capitol that day, while still others contend, also falsely, that the perpetrators were not Trump supporters.

“It wasn’t just right-wing extremists,” Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection 21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol GOP's Gohmert, Clyde file lawsuit over metal detector fines MORE (R-Texas) told a crowd of conservatives in Texas last weekend.

Such comments have only fueled the indignation of lawmakers who had warned of the dangers surrounding Trump’s election lies — and had feared for their lives on Jan. 6. It’s also stoked the Democrats’ efforts to launch a thorough investigation, with or without GOP support.

“When someone does that, we revisit the issue all over again,” said Connolly. “And it just freshens everybody's memory about the depths of denial and delusion ... and willful enabling of a violent mob and violent actors who plotted this event.”