GOP splits open over Jan. 6 commission vote
The House on Wednesday is set to approve legislation to create a bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack in a vote that will re-expose the deep divisions in the GOP over former President Trump’s role in the event and influence in the party.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday announced his opposition to the legislation, which he says puts too much focus on the Jan. 6 attack that interrupted a joint session of Congress’s count of the Electoral College and forced the evacuation of the House and Senate.
McCarthy wants the commission’s scope to be broadened so that it can take in violence in Portland, Ore., and other U.S. cities, as well as the 2017 attack by a gunman on GOP lawmakers practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game and a more recent incident where a Capitol Police officer died.
Doing so would dilute the commission’s focus on both Jan. 6 and Trump, which has been a goal of the GOP’s.
McCarthy on Tuesday said the bill “ignores the political violence that has struck American cities, a Republican Congressional baseball practice, and, most recently, the deadly attack on Capitol Police on April 2, 2021. The presence of this political violence in American society cannot be tolerated and it cannot be overlooked.”
McCarthy’s announcement comes less than a week after the House GOP voted to dump Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from its leadership team over her criticisms of Trump, whom Cheney voted to impeach over his role in the Jan. 6 violence.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as national security leaders outside of Congress, however, have for months called for an independent commission modeled after the one formed in the wake of 9/11 to evaluate one of the worst security lapses in U.S. history.
A mob of people chanting death threats to former Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other officials overwhelmed Capitol Police and invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6. The crowd was determined to stop the Electoral College count and had been fueled by Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen from him.
Many in the crowd appeared to think their actions could prevent President Biden from being seated, despite the fact that Congress’s counting of the Electoral College votes is largely ceremonial.
The attack led to five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer. One rioter was shot dead steps away from the House floor as rioters sought to crash through a barricaded door.
McCarthy’s comments undermined a deal brokered by the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), after efforts by top party leaders made little progress in recent months. Katko is one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his incitement of the Jan. 6 mob.
The bill is certain to pass, but there is a real question over how much GOP support it will muster with McCarthy’s move, which many will see as a sign of Trump’s opposition.
House GOP leaders urged their members to vote against the bill on Tuesday, a turnaround from the day before when Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) office said that it wasn’t whipping for or against the legislation.
“While Ranking Member Katko negotiated in earnest to improve upon previous proposals, Speaker Pelosi delayed for months and prevented the inclusion of a wider investigatory scope, proving her main concern is politics over solutions,” the notice to House GOP offices states.
The legislation largely mirrors a proposal authored by Katko and two other top House GOP committee leaders in January that made no mention of probing other political violence.
“Katko feels like he’s been thrown under the bus,” said one House Republican who knows Katko well and attended Tuesday’s closed-door GOP conference meeting. “I think he feels frustrated he was given a direction to go in and had the rug pulled out from under him.”
“And there is frustration with Kevin based on the Freedom Caucus dictating which direction they want to go in.”
The GOP lawmaker estimated 30 to 50 Republicans will buck McCarthy and vote to form the commission, including the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
Katko on Tuesday defended the compromise he forged with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), despite the opposition from his party’s leader.
“I am confident Chairman Thompson and I negotiated a solid, fair agreement that is a dramatic improvement over previous proposals that sought to politicize a security review of the Capitol. I recognize there are differing views on this issue, which is an inherent part of the legislative process and not something I take personally,” Katko said in a statement.
“However, as the Republican leader of the Homeland Security Committee, I feel a deep obligation to get the answers U.S. Capitol Police and Americans deserve and ensure an attack on the heart of our democracy never happens again.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed frustration with McCarthy on Tuesday for rejecting the deal after Democrats accepted all three of his demands in a February letter, which asked for an equal ratio of Democrats and Republicans, co-equal subpoena power and no “predetermined conclusions.”
“Leader McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer,” she said in a statement.
The commission would include 10 members with expertise in law enforcement and national security backgrounds, with each party appointing five. The commission’s members would be limited to people who are not currently serving in government roles and would be expected to issue a final report by year’s end.
It’s a key diversion from one of Pelosi’s earliest proposals, which would have created an 11-member committee with seven members appointed by Democrats compared to just four by Republicans.
It also addresses another prior sticking point by allowing subpoenas when both the chair and vice chair of the commission agree or by vote of a majority of the commission’s members.
Yet those concessions appeared to do little to ease the minds of many GOP lawmakers.
The legislation specifically states that the commission’s purpose is to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the “interference with the peaceful transfer of power,” including law enforcement’s response and “the influencing factors that fomented such attack on American representative democracy while engaged in a constitutional process.”
Rep. James Comer (Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee who helped introduce the initial January bill, said Democrats should float the names of people they might nominate to fill their five appointed slots on the commission as a way to give assurances the independent body wouldn’t be politicized.
“If I have confidence that they’re going to be nonpolitical people that are going to really try to get down to the bottom of it, then I would probably support the bill,” he told reporters.
“This should be like the 9/11 commission — not political.”
But McCarthy suggested such a commission would be duplicative, given that lawmakers themselves are doing their own investigations through a number of different House and Senate committees and the FBI is investigating crimes associated with the insurrection.
“Numerous Congressional and intergovernmental agency efforts have picked up the slack. There are ongoing bipartisan investigations into all facets of the January 6 events,” he wrote.
“Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation.”
Across the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that Republicans are undecided on whether to back the legislation set for House passage.
“I think I’m safe in characterizing our conference as willing to listen to the arguments about whether such a commission is needed,” McConnell said.
Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed that the Senate will vote on legislation to establish a Jan. 6 commission.
“We’ll see what the House vote is like, but I want to be clear: I will put the Jan. 6 commission legislation on the floor of the Senate for a vote. Period,” Schumer said.
But Schumer expressed frustration with what he described as McCarthy’s “eleventh-hour opposition.”
“It shows how difficult it is to negotiate with Republicans if the Republican leaders are just going to throw their lead negotiators under the bus,” Schumer said. “Why do they even participate in negotiations at all?”
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