Press: How McCarthy blew it on Jan. 6

Aside from Fox News, there’s been almost universal praise in the media for the work of the Jan. 6 select committee. And rightfully so. Its first public hearing, on June 9, was a real tour de force. It was a compelling, made-for-television portrayal of the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — and a powerful indictment of former President Trump, the man at the heart of it all.   

Most importantly, it was done with utmost gravity. No grandstanding. No playing for the camera. Just the indisputable facts, backed up by testimony from leaders of Trump’s own White House: After lying about election fraud for months, the outgoing president summoned his supporters to Washington, in an apparent attempt to stage a coup against the United States government.  

Monday’s second hearing, though less sensational, was equally powerful, with top Republican aides testifying that Trump knew he’d lost the election but lied about it anyway. He spread the lie among state legislatures in attempts to reverse the electoral vote count — and used the lie to raise millions of dollars from loyal but clueless supporters.  

Again, there are plenty of kudos for what a great job the Jan. 6 committee is doing. Unfortunately, there’s too little attention paid thus far to what a pathetic job House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Republicans have done responding to the events of Jan. 6. From Day 1, it’s been a series of embarrassing mistakes.  

At first, in a rare moment of truth-telling, McCarthy said Trump was responsible for what happened on Jan. 6, “no ifs, ands or buts.” In a leaked audio recording, he said, “Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.” That didn’t last long. After rushing to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring, McCarthy 180’d back to defending Trump, and has been doing so ever since.  

McCarthy’s next big mistake was refusing to agree to a bipartisan commission to investigate Jan. 6. Such a commission would have had an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, with equal authority to subpoena and interrogate witnesses. It would have joined the prestigious ranks of the Warren, Kerner, and 9/11 commissions. But McCarthy, ever fearful of offending Trump, dismissed the Jan. 6 insurrection as not worth an investigation — thereby handing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the opportunity to create the House select committee.  

Next, McCarthy tried to sabotage the committee by appointing Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.), both of whom were actively involved in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. Again, McCarthy was outplayed by Pelosi, who rejected Banks and Jordan and offered committee seats to Republican Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.).  

Then McCarthy and House Republicans proceeded to undermine the Jan. 6 committee in a series of arguments that border on the absurd: that what happened on Jan. 6 was “no big deal”; that it was nothing more than a typical tourist visit; that it was another Democratic “witch hunt” against Trump; that it was all Pelosi’s fault; or, most despicable of all, that the blame lies with Capitol police officers, five of whom died following Jan. 6. Some even called the rioters who trashed the Capitol “patriots.”  

And that’s McCarthy’s shockingly inept response to the worst attack on our Capitol since the British burned the Capitol in 1814 and the most serious threat to our democracy since the Civil War. If I were a Republican, I’d sue McCarthy for malpractice.  

In the end, Cheney summed it up best. In a blistering statement that should be etched over the door to McCarthy’s office, she warned: “There will come a time when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”  

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”  

Opinion