Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work
The select committee dedicated to investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will kick off its first hearing on Tuesday with what’s expected to be emotional testimony from police officers who defended the Capitol that day.
The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel, all appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), want to start the probe by hearing from some of the most sympathetic characters of Jan. 6: the police officers on the front lines.
Here are five things to watch.
How dramatic will the police testimony be?
Lawmakers will hear from four officers who defended the Capitol that day, two members of U.S. Capitol Police and two who serve on Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell has previously told CNN he was beaten, had his hand sliced open and was doused in chemical spray during the attack, while Pfc. Harry Dunn told reporters he was called racist slurs and has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.
MPD Officer Michael Fanone has previously shared that he yelled out “I have kids” as rioters suggested killing him with his own gun. Daniel Hodges, another MPD officer, was crushed in a door by rioters, his gas mask ripped off as he was beaten with his own baton, an episode captured on video.
“I think we have a good and representative sample of officers and what they confronted and who can explain what took place,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), adding that they can “also put to rest some of the revisionist history — the effort to whitewash what took place.”
Roughly 140 law enforcement officers from both U.S. Capitol Police and the MPD were injured during the insurrection, leaving many furious with both their own leadership as well as Trump allies who have downplayed the day’s violence. Their accounts could offer a different perspective from Capitol Police’s leadership, who have largely been on the defensive about intelligence and planning failures ahead of the attack.
Capitol Police officers themselves have been highly critical of acting Chief Yogananda Pittman, who on Friday returned to her role leading the agency’s intelligence services. In a February vote attended by nearly all members of the Capitol Police union, 92 percent of officers backed a no confidence vote for Pittman.
Lawmakers have also often found themselves at odds with Capitol Police leadership, criticizing them for failing to send witnesses to testify and pushing the agency to be more forthcoming about its decisionmaking.
How will Cheney and Kinzinger work with the Democrats?
The panel includes two Republicans — Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — who were appointed by Pelosi and voted to impeach former President Trump for inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol.
Their presence on the panel underscores the divide in the GOP over Jan. 6 between Republicans aligned with Trump at all costs and those who are not above criticizing him.
Cheney just six months ago was in charge of the House GOP messaging as the No. 3 House Republican. Now, after getting the boot from fellow Republicans, Cheney is strategizing with Democrats on how to investigate Jan. 6.
In a sign of how much Democrats want to elevate her role on the panel, Cheney will deliver an opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing following one from the select committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).
Typically, the ranking minority member of a committee delivers a statement after the chairman at hearings. In the absence of that, Cheney will unofficially take on the role of the panel’s leading Republican.
Kinzinger, the only other Republican who voted to create the select committee aside from Cheney, vowed to press forward with a “serious, clear-eyed, non-partisan approach.”
“Let me be clear, I’m a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution — and while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will always answer,” Kinzinger said after Pelosi tapped him to serve on the panel.
How will the two Republicans manage the fire from their own party?
Republican leaders have already taken shots at Cheney and Kinzinger after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced a boycott.
McCarthy was responding to Pelosi rejecting two of his five panel picks, Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), given their particularly close ties to Trump and attempts at the outset to cast doubt on the investigation.
McCarthy has not sought to conceal his disdain for Kinzinger and Cheney, acknowledging that he “couldn’t tell you” the last time he spoke with either.
“Who is that? Adam and Liz? Aren’t they kind of like Pelosi Republicans?” McCarthy said prior to a White House event to mark the anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Both Cheney and Kinzinger called the remark “childish.”
“He can call me any names he wants,” Kinzinger said. “I’m a Republican. Kevin McCarthy is technically my Republican leader. And to call, you know, members of Congress by childish names like Donald Trump used to do, I guess it’s just kind of par [for the course].”
“It’s very serious business here with important work to do,” said Cheney, who has regularly criticized McCarthy harshly.
How will Republicans outside the room react?
Republicans at large are trying to cast the select committee’s work as partisan to cast blanket doubt on the proceedings.
“In the history of Congress, never has a Speaker done that,” McCarthy said Monday of Pelosi rejecting two of his panel picks. “She’s broken Congress. Then it just makes the whole committee a sham and the outcome predetermined.”
Responding to the testimony from four police officers will nevertheless present a challenge for Republicans, who routinely want to show support for law enforcement while attacking progressive calls over the last year to “defund the police.”
Some Trump allies, as well as the former president himself, have opted to deny the attack’s severity altogether.
Trump falsely claimed earlier this month during a Fox News interview that “there was also a lovefest between the police, the Capitol Police, and the people that walked down to the Capitol.”
The new Capitol Police chief, Thomas Manger, pushed back against such a characterization in an interview with CNN, stating: “That’s not the way I saw it.”
How will the lack of partisan fireworks inside the room affect the tone?
Unlike most congressional hearings, members of the select committee are all on the same page.
While Cheney and Kinzinger largely vote with the GOP on most policy issues, they’ve found common ground with Democrats when it comes to blaming Trump for inciting the mob with his spurious claims of a stolen election on Jan. 6.
By contrast, a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in May featured Republicans comparing the insurrection to a “normal tourist visit,” casting a rioter shot by Capitol Police outside the House chamber as a martyr and questioning whether the people in the mob were really Trump supporters.
Jordan, a staunch ally of Trump and one of his key defenders during the impeachment, last week called his dismissal a way to “continue to attack the former president.” Banks, meanwhile, initially pledged to uncover facts about the responses to Jan. 6 from Capitol leadership and the Biden administration, with no mention of the Trump administration, which was still in office that day.
Trump won’t have any defenders on the committee dais.
Schiff — the face of House Democrats’ first impeachment effort in 2019 that ended up falling entirely along party lines in the lower chamber — said that the meetings with Cheney and Kinzinger to discuss the select committee have been “very constructive and nonpartisan.”
“It’s not a partisan investigation and when we meet, we meet as a group, and we share the same mission of bringing out the truth. So it’s not an adversarial relationship, and it shouldn’t be,” Schiff said Monday.
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