WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation that would establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol — a 9/11-style probe that has diminished chances of getting off the ground as Republicans begin voicing suspicion about its aims. The […]
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation that would establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol — a 9/11-style probe that has diminished chances of getting off the ground as Republicans begin voicing suspicion about its aims.
The House voted 252-175 to establish the commission — which is the product of bipartisan negotiations among leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee — with 35 Republicans supporting it, despite urging from GOP leaders to vote it down. Just two Texas Republicans — U.S. Reps. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio and Van Taylor of Plano — supported the bill.
The 10-member independent commission would have an even number of members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate. The panel would have the power to subpoena witnesses and it would have until the end of the year to investigate the attack — including what was known in advance, why Capitol Police was left unprepared and why it took so long for reinforcements — and make recommendations to Congress on changes to prevent another such security breach at the Capitol.
“This is about facts. It’s not about partisan politics,” U.S. Rep. John Katko, a New York Republican who co-wrote the bill. “It would have never gotten to this point if it was about partisan politics.”
But leaders of Katko’s own party disagreed.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the commission’s study, as proposed, “ignores the political violence” by those on the left during protests across the country last year. Sen. Mitch McConnell, McCarthy’s counterpart in the Senate, called it a “slanted and unbalanced proposal.”
Former President Donald Trump, who was impeached for inciting the insurrection to thwart the election of Joe Biden, deemed the calls for more Congressional scrutiny of it a “Democratic trap.”
Texas Republicans have largely remained loyal to the president, and even two Texas GOP members who condemned Trump after the insurrection voted against the bill.
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a San Antonio Republican, argued Congress already has oversight power and can do its own investigations.
“Let’s use the powers we have and the powers of this body and the committees we have to seek the truth wherever it may lead,” said Roy, one of the few Texas Republicans who criticized Trump after the riot.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Houston-area Republican, said in a statement that he couldn’t support the commission because he feared it would get in the way of the Justice Department’s ongoing investigations.
“If we, as body, want to see justice, we must allow federal investigators to complete their probe without interference from Congress and ensure they are equipped with the tools to fully prosecute,” said McCaul, who in January said he opposed impeaching Trump “with a heavy heart.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Republicans’ views of the commission were quickly changing this week.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas offered an example of the shift in tone.
While Cornyn questioned the narrow scope of the investigation on Tuesday, he nonetheless was clear that some sort of study was needed.
“I think we need to do something to identify the problems,” he said. “I mean, a repetition of something like that is just — shame on us if we can’t find some way to address it.”
But on Wednesday, as the House prepared to vote, Cornyn seemed less certain, saying he’s concerned that the panel’s work could be impeded by the Justice Department’s “desire not to have us interfere” in the hundreds of ongoing criminal cases. He also said its findings could be used as political ammunition by Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The Justice Department has announced charges against more than 440 people accused of taking part in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, in which five people died and 140 police officers were assaulted. At least four dozen of those charged so far are Texans. More arrests are expected.
“As a practical matter, I don’t think it could wrap up this year — especially when hundreds of criminal cases are being prosecuted,” Cornyn said, adding that having the commission’s work drag into next year, when Republicans will be aiming to retake the House and Senate, would be “Democrats’ dream.”
“Part of the concern is that’s the plan — that’s Pelosi’s plan,” he said.
Cornyn said he remains undecided and the matter “needs more study.” He said he thought the House bill could be amended in the Senate to gain more Republican support, pointing to the GOP calls to widen the scope of the investigation.
“Why in the world would you want to tie their hands by telling me, ‘Look through a soda straw: It’s January 6th, you can’t look at January 5, you can’t look at January 7,’” Cornyn said. “Why don’t you just let them follow the evidence where it leads? So, that causes me to be somewhat skeptical of the Speaker’s motivations, if she wants to limit it to just one day.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have accused Republicans of “whitewashing” and “gaslighting” as some on the right have sought to downplay the actions of the insurrectionists. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican, spent an hour on the House floor last week defending accused insurrectionists, the vast majority of whom he said are “peaceful Americans.”
“Their only crime was supporting Donald Trump and concern about the fraud Democrats have been telling us about in elections for many years,” Gohmert said.
In court records, the Justice Department accuses a number of the alleged rioters of wielding tomahawks, pepper spray, firecrackers and more against Capitol Police.
“Whether you believe that it was just a group of tourists walking through the Capitol or not, you should want this commission,” said U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat. “If you believe it was an insurrection, you should want this commission.
“You should want this commission because you cannot bury the truth in an earthly grave of lies,” Green said. “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.”