McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee

Kevin McCarthy
Julia Nikhinson

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) faces a daunting task as he weighs his options for appointing Republicans to a special committee to investigate the Capitol attack of Jan. 6.

Formally, his picks need approval from Democratic leaders, who wrote the rules for the panel. Informally, McCarthy’s choices can’t upset former President Trump, who remains the party’s kingmaker. And internally, they can’t alienate one faction of McCarthy’s conference or another, which could threaten his chances of becoming Speaker if the House flips in next year’s midterm elections.

Yet there’s a fourth complication, as well: A number of lawmakers say they’re simply not interested in being on the committee.

“It’s not on Rep. Upton’s bucket list to serve on the select committee,” said Billy Fuerst, a spokesman for Fred Upton, the veteran Michigan Republican.

Upton is hardly alone. The Hill last week contacted the offices of 30 Republicans who had supported an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. Only two would comment for this story — Upton and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (N.Y.) — and neither indicated the slightest desire to serve on the panel.

“The Select Committee is not about getting answers, it’s just another platform for Democrats to bash Republicans,” Garbarino said in a statement lamenting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had not applied the rules of the independent commission to the select committee.

“The best any Republican participants can hope for,” he added, “is to push back on whatever partisan divisive claims Democratic members make throughout this process.”

Despite the criticism, there are political advantages to the select committee for GOP lawmakers, who will have an easier time bashing Pelosi’s creation than they would the independent commission, which was negotiated and endorsed by Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

“The select committee allows Republicans to attack it a little more than they would with an independent commission,” a GOP aide told The Hill.

But the reluctance of lawmakers to participate on the panel — or even to talk about it with the press — also hints at some of the potential pitfalls facing McCarthy and Republicans as the process evolves.

The Capitol attack was conducted by Trump supporters hoping to reverse his election defeat, injuring almost 140 police officers in the process. And Republicans on the panel will be put in a challenging spot, wary not to appear too critical of the officers now condemning Trump’s actions — or too sympathetic to the violent pro-Trump mob — all while defending a former president who had encouraged the crowd to march on the Capitol to block the peaceful transfer of power.

The GOP conference is stacked with Trump allies, including a handful of conservative rabble-rousers who have downplayed the violence of Jan. 6 and are more than eager to defend the former president on such a prominent stage. Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), for instance, have all expressed an avidness to serve on the committee.

But Pelosi has veto power over McCarthy’s picks, and sources say she’s expected, if need be, to keep the conservative fringe off of the panel in the name of promoting a “responsible” probe.

A second pool of potential GOP picks — less controversial than the first — features a group of Trump defenders with deeper experience in the rough sport of partisan combat.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.) were all effective advocates for the former president during his first impeachment. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), head of the Republican Study Committee and a former Trump critic, has emerged as a prominent champion of the 45th president, joining him on recent trips to New Jersey and the southern border. And Rep. Rodney Davis (Ill.), the senior Republican on the House Administration Committee, has already told news outlets that he’d accept a seat on the select committee.

Pelosi is sure to face some internal pressure to reject any of the 139 Republicans who had voted in January to reverse the presidential election results in Arizona, Pennsylvania or both. And all but Davis fit that category.

“I hope that Kevin will appoint responsible people to the committee,” Pelosi said cryptically before the July 4 recess, when asked about her criteria for membership.

McCarthy’s office declined to comment on the deliberations surrounding the select committee. But his long-term goals are no mystery: The minority leader is fighting to flip control of the House in next year’s elections, then rise to Speaker in the weeks following. And the clearest path to achieving both, he’s calculated, is to remain in the good graces of Trump, who retains enormous support among conservatives and is vowing to use his powers of influence to sway races in the midterms and beyond. GOP leadership races are likely not exempt.

McCarthy could opt to appoint no additional Republicans to the select committee, leaving empty the five remaining seats. But that would lend Democrats — with help from Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the Trump-bashing Republican who accepted a seat on the panel — the entire stage to attack the former president uncontested.

Pelosi faced a similar decision in 2014, when Republicans created a select committee to investigate the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Despite some calls to boycott the panel, for fear of legitimizing it, she chose to participate, tapping the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to lead the defense of the committee’s target: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The vote to create the Jan. 6 committee underscores the similarly partisan nature of the current debate: Only two Republicans — Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — supported the bill. And even some of Trump’s harshest Republican critics say that’s a major problem, and one that will undermine the panel’s ultimate findings.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) — who voted to impeach Trump and supported the formation of the 9/11-style independent commission — says the select committee is inherently partisan, as Pelosi designed it, and therefore won’t be taken seriously by much of the public.

“If we move forward in a partisan manner, the truth about Jan. 6 will never be fully known — or respected,” she told The Hill just before the recess.

Herrera Beutler also objected to the composition of the select panel, arguing that it’s a mistake to place sitting House members — who serve two-year terms and face intense political pressures to win reelection — in charge of such a crucial investigation. Republicans “made a mistake” in forming the partisan Benghazi panel in 2014, she said, and Democrats should take a lesson from that partisan indiscretion.

“The amount of political pressure on this thing is insane … and everybody in D.C. right now seems to be afraid of their own political shadow,” she said. “So why would we put those people in charge of unearthing what will be probably sensitive, important, intense information about the truth?”

Rebecca Beitsch contributed.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Capitol attack Donald Trump Elijah Cummings Elise Stefanik Fred Upton Hillary Clinton Jaime Herrera Beutler Jan. 6 probe Jim Jordan John Katko Kevin McCarthy Lauren Boebert Liz Cheney Louie Gohmert Marjorie Taylor Greene Matt Gaetz Mike Johnson Nancy Pelosi Rodney Davis

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