The House of Representatives
voted on Wednesday to establish an expert commission
to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, but a majority of Republicans
voted against it, part of a larger effort by the party to distance itself from an attack
encouraged by its own leader, then-President Donald Trump
leaders' opposition, the bill was passed by a vote of 252 to 175, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats
in support of the commission.
The bipartisan vote sets up a showdown with the Senate
, where Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) may filibuster the bill because the investigation would likely be embarrassing to the Republican Party
The bill would create a “National Commission to Investigate the January 6
, 2015 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex,” with five Republicans and five Democrats appointed, and a final report due to the White House
by the end of the year.
Appointees to the panel would have to come from outside the government and have “national recognition and significant depth of experience” in fields such as public service, law enforcement, technology, and counterterrorism.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) of the House Homeland Security Committee drafted the legislation.
Some aspects of the riot are already well-known, such as the fact that Trump incited the riot by lying for months that the 2020 election
had been stolen from him; many Republican lawmakers repeated the lies, and the majority voted against certifying election results even after the mob attack on Jan. 6.
Republicans, on the other hand, have attempted to rewrite history. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy
(R-Calif.) has claimed that the president did not provoke the attack, and other Republicans have suggested that the mob was made up of “fake Trump supporters
” or that the violent storming of the Capitol wasn’t so bad.
Both McCarthy and McConnell have said the commission should look into riots associated with the Black Lives Matter
movement in 2020, as if protests against police brutality
had anything to do with an insurgency against valid election results. The bill's text already directs the commission to look into "the influencing factors that fomented" the attack, which could include the Black Lives Matter movement.
Trump has also claimed that the commission is a sham because it does not address unrelated issues.
“It is just more partisan unfairness, and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis
, Seattle, Chicago, and New York
are also investigated, this discussion should be terminated immediately,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.
Even though Republicans opposed the bill, only a few spoke out against it on the House floor, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
(R-GA), a Trump ally who has previously been stripped of committee assignments for extremist and hateful speech and was recently in the news for harassing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(D-NY). Greene argued that the commission was unnecessary.
“For the next few years, the media will use this to smear Trump supporters and President Trump and cover up the real damage that is happening to the people
of this country,” Greene said on the House floor.
When McCarthy announced his opposition to the bill this week, Thompson said it came as a “big surprise” to him and others, as McCarthy had been involved in its development from the beginning and was supportive of it behind the scenes.
“There was no disagreement on his part,” Thompson said, “but I guess that’s politics
Republicans opposed the bill despite urging from a group of Capitol Police
officers, who released an anonymous letter not long before the vote expressing "profound disappointment" with Republican leaders for saying a commission was unnecessary. The letter came from a group of officers, according to Rep. Jamie Raskin's (D-Md.) office.
“It is unthinkable that some of the Members we protect would downplay the events of January 6th... It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that ‘it wasn’t that bad,’” the letter reads. “That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members.”
A bipartisan commission would issue an authoritative account of what happened and make policy recommendations to prevent it from happening again, as Congress did after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and as leaders of both parties have previously stated would be appropriate for January 6, 2021.
However, McConnell stated on Wednesday that the ongoing investigations by the Justice Department
and congressional committees should suffice. “It is not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress,” McConnell said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) dismissed McConnell's claims that a Jan. 6 commission would duplicate congressional work
on the issue, saying that congressional investigations can only help the independent panel gather all of the information it will review.
A bipartisan commission “commands the respect of the American people because of the caliber of people who will serve on it,” she told reporters. “I certainly could call for hearings in the House with a majority of the members being Democrats, with full subpoena power, with the agenda determined by the Democrats, but that is not the path we have chosen.”
When asked if she reserves the right to go down that other path, Pelosi said, "I don't want to."
The Thompson-Katko bill was supported by 9/11 commission chairman Tom Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton.
“Americans deserve an objective and accurate account of what happened,” the pair said on Wednesday, adding, “Just as we did in the aftermath of September 11, it is time to set aside partisan politics and come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice.”
Reporting assistance was provided by Elise Foley.