Why we need a new 9/11 Commission for Jan. 6 Capitol attack

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On Sept. 11, 2001, as three hijacked planes barreled into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, terrorists commandeered a fourth, intended to strike a symbol of democratic freedom. While the terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden, debated about what buildings to prioritize in Washington, D.C., one thing was very clear. The operational planner and manager of the 9/11 attacks, Mohammed Atta, clearly preferred the U.S. Capitol as the key target.

Two decades later, on Jan. 6, 2021, that same building came under attack — not from a foreign threat, but a domestic one. A group of armed insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, intent on halting the certification of results from a free and fair election. American citizens launched an assault on their own elected representatives, seriously injuring law enforcement officers who stood in their way.  

We must address this new wave of anti-democratic violence head-on, with the same vigor we mustered after Sept. 11. We may be facing unprecedented political division, but an objective independent and bipartisan investigation into the events of Jan. 6 — modeled after the success of the 9/11 Commission — should be something both parties can get behind. After Sept. 11, Republicans and Democrats came together to support the difficult but important work of the 9/11 Commission.

As former members of Congress from both sides of the aisle — one of whom served on the commission — we remember the days following the attacks: the rush to give blood, to donate money, to support the families of the victims. When we were under attack, we pulled together. We knew that getting to the bottom of what happened was the only way to ensure it didn’t happen again. 

Just this week, the House of Representatives voted in a strong bipartisan manner to pass legislation that would establish a commission. This moment was made possible by a breakthrough agreement from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Ranking Member John Katko (R-N.Y.), as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s willingness to compromise by ensuring that both parties are equally represented on the commission and share subpoena power. 

Thirty-five House Republicans put country first and voted to uncover the truth and deliver answers to the American people. Reporting indicates several Senate Republicans are also prepared to put country over party in support of the Jan. 6 commission. 

The 9/11 Commission’s unity of purpose was the key to its effectiveness. The commissioners examined, without bias, the events before, during and after the attacks. Their job wasn’t to play the “blame game” for either a Republican or Democratic administration, but to understand our vulnerabilities in order to prevent future acts of terrorism.

The American people understood that the commission was operating on their behalf. The commission report has become the authoritative source on what happened on Sept. 11, and its many recommendations have been adopted into law, making this country profoundly safer.

It’s easy to forget how shaken we as a nation felt in late 2001 — as though the next attack could come at any moment. But America has not seen another attack on the scale of 9/11 in the last 20 years. Taking honest stock of our past made us stronger and better prepared.

An independent and bipartisan Jan. 6 commission — insulated from the everyday political pressures of Congress — is best situated to establish a shared truth about the events of the day, so that partisan actors cannot rewrite the facts over time. It would give us a better understanding of the forces that led to the insurrection — and, most importantly, a better roadmap of how to address them going forward. 

In 2001, the 9/11 families were living reminders of the high stakes and lasting consequences of the commission’s work. They made pilgrimages to Washington, D.C. to hold us accountable, to make sure we got it right. Now, every American citizen who wants to safeguard our democracy and move forward should sound the alarm about the threat we face and mobilize in favor of the Jan. 6 Commission. 

Our nation is at a crossroads. If the Senate fails to act in a bipartisan manner to create an independent 9/11-style commission, there are two other options, both fall below the ideal of legislative action.

1) President Biden could assemble an executive branch commission and generally appoint his selections.

2) Speaker Pelosi has indicated she could create a select committee comprised of members of Congress, thereby embedding this back into a highly charged political environment with the 2022 midterms approaching.

The path initiated in the House by Thompson and Katko is the right course for America to get answers and truth. It’s time for the Senate to do the right thing. 

Historically, on important matters of safety and national security, our tradition has been to set aside partisan fighting and meet at the water’s edge. We do so because violence is not an acceptable form of political expression in our representative democracy. Americans face a fundamental choice — not between left and right, but between right and wrong.

In the face of attacks both foreign and domestic, America has endured for over two centuries because we have stood united in the moments that mattered most. This is one of those moments, and it’s time for us to rise to meet it.

Tim Roemer is a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, former ambassador to India and 9/11 Commission member.

Zach Wamp is a former Republican congressman from Tennessee.

They are members of the National Council on Election Integrity, composed of former elected officials, former Cabinet secretaries, retired military officials and civic leaders working to defend the legitimacy of our elections and protect our democratic norms and institutions, and currently serve as co-chairs of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, the largest bipartisan group of former members of Congress, governors, and cabinet secretaries ever assembled to advocate for political reform.

Tags 9/11 9/11 Commission Bennie Thompson Capitol attack Democracy insurrection Jan. 6 commission Joe Biden John Katko Nancy Pelosi National security Tim Roemer Zach Wamp

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