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Democrats worry Jan. 6 probe could divert their agenda

Democrats worry Jan. 6 probe could divert their agenda
© Greg Nash

Key Democratic chairmen in both chambers of Congress are not eager to launch committee investigations into the lead-up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 if legislation to establish an independent commission fails in the Senate.

Instead, Democratic lawmakers are already floating the idea of setting up a select committee, perhaps like the House Select Committee on Benghazi established in 2014, to investigate who incited the attack and how.

Such a panel would be controlled by Democrats, unlike the bipartisan commission which the House approved of Wednesday. That legislation appears unlikely to pass the Senate.

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House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDemocratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack Lobbying world Hillicon Valley: Biden gives TikTok and WeChat a reprieve | Colonial Pipeline CEO addresses Congress again | Thomson Reuters shareholders want review of ICE ties MORE (D-Miss.) says Congress needs to get to the bottom of what fueled the violence of Jan. 6 but expressed concern about a lengthy investigation impinging on his own panel’s busy calendar of legislative and oversight priorities.

“There are several options,” he said, noting that “various committees of jurisdiction” on domestic terrorism could take the lead.

He also said Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed On The Money: Powell says pickup in job gains likely this fall | Schumer, Pelosi meeting with White House on infrastructure MORE (D-Calif.) “could decide if the Senate doesn’t come to some agreement … to appoint a select committee, like Congress has done in other situations, and go from there.”

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary PetersGary PetersHarris casts tiebreaking vote to confirm OPM nominee This week: Senate set for voting rights fight Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (D-Mich.) says he does not plan to conduct another investigation after his panel, which is working with the Senate Rules Committee, issues its report early next month on the security failures of Jan. 6.

“We’re wrapping up the work that we did,” he said.

Peters added that “we’re not contemplating” holding a second investigation into the role that Trump and his advisers played in fomenting an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, if the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission fails to get off the ground.

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“I have the southern border, I have cybersecurity, I have [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] FEMA, so our committee is in the middle of a lot of major issues and there’s only so much bandwidth my staff has,” he said.

Other Democratic chairmen also raise concerns about their legislative agenda getting derailed by a multicommittee investigation in the Jan. 6 attacks, which would likely drag on for months.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal MORE (D-Ohio) told “Julie Mason Mornings” on POTUS, SiriusXM, that he wants to keep focused on President BidenJoe BidenBaltimore police chief calls for more 'boots on the ground' to handle crime wave Biden to deliver remarks at Sen. John Warner's funeral Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump MORE’s legislative agenda.

“We have so much to do. I don’t want to spend legislative time” on reviewing the Jan. 6 attack, he said, arguing that a special committee or commission would be more suited for the task.

“I don’t want to spend a lot of time on regular committees doing this investigation, I want it done by a special committee that’s bipartisan, that won’t take time away from dealing with all these issues that are in the public interest,” he said, citing the need to address infrastructure and the child tax credit.

If these chairman are reluctant to move forward, and if the Senate blocks the House commission bill, Democratic leaders could face pressure to support a select committee to investigate the Capitol attack.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerTech industry pushes for delay in antitrust legislation Biden signs Juneteenth bill: 'Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments' House passes political spending, climate change corporate disclosures bill MORE (D-Md.) floated the idea of a select committee Wednesday, telling reporters: “We are going to pursue this one way or the other.”

Other House Democrats say Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is also open to creating a select committee.

“Everybody knows what my options are. They are no secret,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.

She said, however, her “overwhelming preference is for bipartisanship.”

The House-passed Jan. 6 commission bill is running into strong Republican opposition in the Senate, even though 35 House Republicans voted for it Wednesday. McConnell on Wednesday blasted the House-passed bill as “slanted” and “unbalanced.”

McConnell made his comments a day after former President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE, who would be at the center of any investigation into the lead-up to the Jan. 6 attack, urged Republicans to “not approve the Democrat trap.”

Democrats suffered a setback Thursday when Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBurr on 'unusual' Trump endorsement in NC Senate race: 'I can't tell you what motivates him' Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (N.C.), who was one of seven Senate Republicans to vote to convict Trump on an article of impeachment in February, said he would oppose legislation establishing a bipartisan commission.

“These investigations are being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course. I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise,” he said, referring to a joint review being carried out by the Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees on the security failures of the Capitol attack.  

It’s possible that a handful of Senate Republicans could vote for an independent commission but Democrats would need 10 GOP votes to overcome a filibuster and that doesn’t seem likely now that McConnell has come out strongly against the House bill.

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal Overnight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions MORE (R-S.D.), who initially indicted he would be open to supporting the bipartisan commission, is now telling reporters he’s a likely “no” vote.

“It would appear that under the layout that they’ve got this probably could not get started with a staff approved until late this year. That’s way too late, way too long to get the folks who need the appropriate security clearances to go through everything,” he said.

Rounds also noted the two committees already looking at the attack.

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Even Republican senators who are viewed as the most likely to support an independent Jan. 6 commission, such as Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Flaming shipwreck wreaks havoc on annual sea turtle migration Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal MORE (Utah) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Maine), haven't yet decided how to vote and are pushing for changes to House bill.

Democrats are warning their colleagues that further investigation into the Jan. 6 attack will happen, even if they block the House measure.

“We have to find a way to conduct a thorough and appropriate review of what happened on Jan. 6. This commission is the best way to accomplish that,” said Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsCutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Progressive groups ramp up pressure on Feinstein Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Del.), a close Biden ally. “If Republicans cannot find their way to support it, we’re going to have to pursue a committee process or an independent committee process or a special committee process.”

Coons said the fears of Democratic colleagues that regular committee work will get pushed aside by a Jan. 6 investigation is a “reasonable concern.”

"If we could get a select committee, it is far preferable to have dedicated staff and dedicated group of senators ... looking at it," he added.