GOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing
House Democrats on Tuesday will launch their long-sought investigation into the Capitol attack of Jan. 6, kicking off a contentious probe just as GOP infighting over the insurrection — and former President Trump’s role in it — is reaching a fever pitch.
The first hearing of the select committee will feature testimony from police officers who defended the Capitol complex from the violent mob that day. But much of the focus Tuesday will be on a pair of panel Republicans — hand-picked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who have emerged as the GOP face of the anti-Trump movement, both in Congress and far beyond.
The appointment of Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to the special committee — while benefiting Democrats by boosting the bipartisan bona fides of the panel — sparked a firestorm of controversy within the Republican conference. Heading into Tuesday’s hearing, the internal GOP sparring has now evolved into a bare-knuckle brawl.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ripped the two defectors on Monday, characterizing them as “Pelosi Republicans” — a disparaging reference, in the eyes of conservatives, given the GOP’s historic disdain for the long-serving Democratic leader.
Both Cheney and Kinzinger, who huddled with Democratic members of the Jan. 6 panel on Monday, shot back at McCarthy, calling his remarks “childish,” if not unexpected.
“We’re doing big things right now. We’re getting to the answers of the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. He can call me any names he wants,” Kinzinger, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, told reporters as he emerged from the strategy session.
“I’m a Republican. Kevin McCarthy is technically my Republican leader. And to call … members of Congress by childish names like Donald Trump used to do, I guess it’s just kind of par for the course,” Kinzinger added.
The internal clash is highlighting the explosive controversy surrounding Trump’s actions following his election defeat in November, when he spread false claims that the results were fraudulent and encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol to block the certification of President Biden’s victory. Five people died in events related to the Jan. 6 insurrection, and about 140 police officers were injured.
Four of those officers — two representing the U.S. Capitol Police corps and two from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department — are scheduled to testify Tuesday on their experiences defending Congress that day. All four have been critical of both Trump’s actions and those of the Republicans now downplaying the violence of Jan. 6.
McCarthy had initially nominated five Republicans to the select committee. But Pelosi rejected two of them — Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio), staunch Trump supporters whom the Speaker deemed to be a threat to the “integrity” of the investigation.
In response, McCarthy yanked all of his GOP picks from the panel, calling it a Pelosi-orchestrated “sham” designed only to attack Trump and Republicans ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The boycott was hailed by many in the GOP conference, but it was also a gamble, leaving Trump without any defenders on the dais as the select committee plows ahead with its work.
Democrats are hardly sympathetic to the GOP’s plight, noting that Republican leaders had initially endorsed — but ultimately blocked — the formation of an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the attack.
“Kevin McCarthy has made his bed and he has to sleep in it,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), one of Pelosi’s picks on the committee, told The Hill on Monday.
The arrival of the investigation — and intraparty warfare that’s accompanied it — has put McCarthy in a difficult spot at a moment he is trying to unify his 211-member conference against the Biden administration in a bid to take back the majority next year.
McCarthy is facing calls from the Freedom Caucus, the bloc of conservative rabble-rousers close to Trump, to force a symbolic floor vote by the end of the week to oust Pelosi from the Speakership.
Other rank-and-file Republicans are pushing McCarthy to seek retribution against Cheney and Kinzinger for agreeing to serve on Pelosi’s Jan. 6 panel. On Monday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called on McCarthy to strip them of their other House committee assignments.
“They’re no longer a member of our team,” Gaetz, a key Trump ally, said on Newsmax TV.
Appearing at a White House event Monday, McCarthy took aim at Cheney and Kinzinger but was noncommittal when asked if he wanted to see them booted from their other congressional committees, as he did in 2019 with then-Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) over his defense of white supremacy.
“We’ll see,” McCarthy told reporters in the Rose Garden.
Some McCarthy allies said they don’t see him backing the effort to punish Cheney and Kinzinger. It would further highlight GOP divisions, and it’s unlikely McCarthy could even successfully oust the pair given that Pelosi and the Democrats, who hold the majority, would have the option to vote down the GOP effort on the floor, Democratic sources said.
“I think it’s a stretch at this point” that McCarthy would take action, said one GOP lawmaker close to the leader.
The internal jousting has highlighted Trump’s continued grip on the party — and the disagreeable choice facing Republican lawmakers as a result. Either they endorse his lie about the “stolen” election and downplay the violence of Jan. 6, or they risk his ire — and perhaps a career-ending primary challenge.
Indeed, nine of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January are already facing promises of such a challenge, and the former president is offering to endorse any GOP candidate who might emerge to take on the 10th, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.).
Cheney, a defense hawk and scion of a conservative political dynasty despised by Democrats for decades, has suddenly found herself being hailed by liberals as a patriot.
“The country increasingly is going to be appreciating the integrity and constitutional patriotism of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and other Republicans who are willing to investigate for the truth, rather than for a narrow partisan agenda,” Raskin said.
In February, Raskin led the Democrats’ prosecution during Trump’s second impeachment trial, which included graphic video of a pro-Trump mob attacking police officers as they defended the Capitol. A mix of new and old video of Jan. 6 will play a role in Tuesday’s hearing as well, Democrats said.
Cheney, who was ousted from GOP leadership in May for continuing to blame Trump for Jan. 6, will get a prime speaking slot during the hearing immediately after Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) gives his opening remarks.
With so much media attention on the Jan. 6 panel’s opening hearing, Trump’s loyalists made clear they’ll try to distract and run counterprogramming.
McCarthy and his five picks for the panel will hold a news conference Tuesday morning, before the hearing, likely trying to shift blame on Pelosi for the security breakdown at the Capitol that day. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) are teasing a “major announcement” Tuesday morning. And later, Greene, Gaetz and others will head to the Justice Department to demand information about the “treatment” of Jan. 6 insurrectionists who remain in jail.
Trump’s critics in both parties are ignoring the distractions, saying the Jan. 6 attack was a threat to the nation’s underlying democratic traditions — and one that deserves a thorough examination.
“It’s going to be … a really important opportunity to remind everybody about the necessity of accountability for what happened, [and] for making sure that it never happens again,” Cheney said.