Months after Donald Trump incited a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers appear poised to move forward with a commission to investigate the incident. Democrat Bennie Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee in the House, announced on Friday that he and John Katko, the panel’s top Republican, had reached a “bipartisan agreement” for a January 6 Commission, similar to the one established twenty years ago to investigate the September 11 terrorist attacks. Democrats hailed the agreement, which could make it to the House floor next week, as a major step toward accountability for the insurrection and toward preventing similar violence in the future. “Inaction—or just moving on—is simply not an option,” Thompson said in a statement, nodding at the insistence by a number of high profile Republicans that the incident is old news. “The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol.”
“It is imperative that we seek the truth of what happened on January 6 with an independent, 9/11-type Commission to examine and report upon the facts, causes, and security relating to the terrorist mob attack,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her own statement Friday. “Thanks to [Thompson and Katko], today a bipartisan agreement to form such a commission has been reached.”
But while the commission moving forward could be a step toward accountability and enhanced security, major questions remain as to whether the proposed 10-member committee will be able to be truly effective. According to Thompson, the bipartisan commission would consist of five members appointed by the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and five members appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Its mandate would be to examine the circumstances of the attack and the events leading up to it, with the power of subpoena.
But, as Mother Jones’ David Corn pointed out, the terms of agreement may allow for Republicans to block subpoenas, which could pose a significant obstacle for the commission as it works to produce a report by the end of the year. The GOP, after all, remains firmly devoted to Trump, and enabled him as he told lie after lie about the 2020 election and whipped his supporters into a frenzy on January 6 in a feverish push to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory. Several prominent Republicans, including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, helped Trump incite the riot, and 147 of them—including McCarthy—voted to object to the November election results, even after armed insurrectionists stormed the Capitol and stalked its halls in search of Mike Pence and other officials. Many paid lip service to condemning the attack. But, more recently, Republicans have stepped up their efforts to whitewash what happened that day, with lawmakers like Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar defending violent insurrectionists as “peaceful patriots.”
“There was no insurrection and to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie,” GOP Representative Andrew Clyde said this week. “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”
These Republican efforts to rewrite the history of January 6 both underscore the need for an independent investigation and represent the biggest impediment to carrying one out. Establishing the commission could keep the nation from simply “moving on,” as Cruz, Hawley, and other election deniers seems to want. But the influence of Republicans on an investigation into an attack that they themselves helped perpetrate and have since sought to minimize or excuse could weaken it a great deal, especially if they try to broaden the panel’s mandate to include inquiries into Black Lives Matter and antifa—wholly unrelated matters that would only serve to distract from the GOP malfeasance that led to the storming of the Capitol. “There is real concern among a number of members of my own party about a January 6 commission,” Liz Cheney, who went this week from the No. 3 Republican in the House to exile for standing up to Trump’s attacks on democracy, said in an interview Wednesday. “That kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing.”
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