What does a Jan. 6 hearing victory look like for Democrats?
Democrats cheering the congressional investigation into last year’s violent attack on the Capitol face a tricky question as they make their case against former President Trump: What does a victory look like?
The answer seems to be as diverse as the House Democratic Caucus itself.
A number of lawmakers said they want the open proceedings, which begin in prime time on Thursday, to provide a high-stakes history lesson of sorts, revealing not only what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, when a pro-Trump mob tried to block the peaceful transfer of power, but why the threat to democracy remains real.
“If we reach people with an open mind and inform the public of how close we came to losing our democracy, and provide a sense of urgency about how we’re not out of the woods, I think we’ll have succeeded,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who sits on the select committee investigating the attack.
Another group is voicing hopes that the public airing of new revelations about the deadly riot will lead to greater accountability for those who executed it.
“Those people who perpetuated this insurrection should be punished, some should go to jail, and we should follow the chain to see where it started — not just from the bottom, but go to the top all the way down,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said.
Taking that sentiment a step further, some want the investigators’ findings to amp up the pressure on the Justice Department to prosecute more members of Trump’s inner circle — or even the former president himself — for their role in orchestrating the attack.
“I think there will be an increasing demand that something has to happen,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. “This may be a turning point; the hearings may prompt a kind of response I think many Americans would like to see.”
Others said much of the objective is to highlight the discrepancy between the two parties when it comes to protecting the nation’s institutions from violent insurrection.
“This was not some peaceful protest; this was not what the Republican National Committee referred to as ‘legitimate political discourse,’ ” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “This is a way to have the American people make their own judgment.”
Still others stressed the importance of preserving America’s role as a global example of how to protect democratic governance, particularly in an age of Russian aggression in Europe and rising autocracies around the world. Victory in this sense, said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), another member of the Jan. 6 committee, hinges on the long-term durability of America’s democratic traditions and institutions.
“It’s a long-term test,” Raskin said.
“You know that the autocrats and the bullies and the dictators and despots all over Earth have gotten together to try to overthrow democracy, from Moscow to Mar-a-Lago,” he continued. “The truth has a way of getting out there. And we’re determined to say that every American has access to the facts about what took place.”
The debate is happening at a crucial point in the select committee’s yearlong investigation into the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, where hundreds of Trump supporters, animated by the former president’s baseless claims that President Biden’s election victory was fraudulent, stormed into the building in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying the results. Seven people died in connection to the rampage, and roughly 150 police officers were injured while sparring with the rioters.
The initial response from House GOP leaders was to condemn Trump for his role in the unprecedented rampage. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said publicly that Trump “bears responsibility” for the violence, while privately the Republican leader was even more harsh, saying he would urge Trump to resign just days before his presidential term was to end.
Since then, however, the tone from Republicans has changed drastically.
Although banned from Twitter and self-exiled in Florida, Trump remains the most popular Republican figure in the country, raising tens of millions of dollars for campaigns and playing kingmaker in dozens of primary contests from coast to coast. His staying power has forced most GOP leaders to rush to his defense as the select committee has spent months digging into the events surrounding the Capitol riot.
One notable exception, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), was kicked out of her spot in GOP leadership for challenging Trump’s lie about a stolen election. She is now the vice chair of the select committee investigating Jan. 6.
McCarthy, who is actively seeking the Speaker’s gavel if Republicans flip control of the House in November, has led Trump’s defense, opposing an independent commission to investigate the attack and refusing to cooperate in the probe, even under subpoena.
An earlier dispute over the Republican picks for the select committee prompted McCarthy to pull all his selections from the panel. The Republicans have characterized the investigation as a political witch hunt aimed solely at hurting Trump and the GOP politically — a message they’re amplifying this week ahead of Thursday’s prime-time hearing.
“They are scrambling to change the headlines, praying that the nation will focus on their partisan witch hunt instead of our pocketbooks. It will not work,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who replaced Cheney last year as the No. 3 House Republican, said Wednesday.
The members of the bipartisan panel are pressing on, saying the decision by Trump’s GOP allies to downplay the events of Jan. 6 is only more reason to get to the bottom of what happened that day — and air those findings to the country.
“They saw on television, and they’ll see again, they’ll be reminded of the fact that this was a violent insurrection; this was not some peaceful protest,” said Hoyer. “Was this legitimate political discourse? Is this the way you think democracy ought to be carried out? Is this the way you think citizens ought to make their point? If it is, we’re in real trouble as a nation.”
The select committee’s decision to stage the hearing at 8 p.m. on Thursday is designed to help the panel disseminate the results of its investigation. But in a sign of the uphill trek the committee is facing, Fox News announced this week that it will not air the event live, as other networks have scheduled.
“All we can control is what’s in front of us, and that’s to tell that story,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a member of the select committee, said. “I hope that people pay attention.”