The United States on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON–The U.S. House voted Wednesday 252-175 to give the go-ahead to the formation of an independent, bipartisan commission that would investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, despite objections from Republican leaders that the scope of the commission was not wide enough and other investigations are ongoing.
Thirty-five Republicans joined with Democrats in backing the measure, which would set up a 10-member commission styled on the panel that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with appointed members split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where its future fell into doubt after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition earlier Wednesday, saying the commission is not needed, and the proposal is “slanted and unbalanced.”
Democrats in a Senate divided 50-50 would need the votes of 10 Republicans to move ahead with debate and a final vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed GOP objections as a “shameful” concession to former President Donald Trump, who has urged Republicans to resist the “Democrat trap” of an investigatory commission.
“Once again, they are caving to Donald Trump and proving that the Republican Party is still drunk off the Big Lie,” Schumer (D-New York) said.
The House GOP resistance to the commission came even though Rep. John Katko, a New York Republican, had been given the go-ahead by his leaders to work with Democrats on the bill, following months of disagreement over the party makeup of the commission and more.
Five people died in the Jan. 6 assault, including one U.S. Capitol Police officer.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, said that the commission will be used to attack the GOP. “You see, what’s going to happen with the January 6 commission is the media is going to use this to smear Trump supporters and President Trump for the next few years,” she said.
Rep. Dan Bishop, a North Carolina Republican, said he felt compelled to defend Republican leaders from “one more partisan attack” by Democrats. “If we are concerned about the danger the police officers were in on January 6, and certainly they were, then why don’t we have concern about the violence, the injuries, the deaths that have been faced by police officers across the country?” he asked.
Democrats said the commission is needed to explore how and why the insurrection occurred.
“Let’s be clear—democracy itself was violently attacked on January 6,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat. “We don’t tell the truth about what happened on January 6, it will happen again.”
Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who wrote the bill with Katko, said on Jan. 6, the world watched Americans storm the U.S. Capitol and try to interrupt the certification of the election of President Joe Biden.
“Given how politically charged the events of January 6 have become, we need to come together in a patriotic, bipartisan way and approve this independent body, just as we did when we approved the creation of the 9/11 Commission,” he said.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said law enforcement officials on Jan. 6 were punched, kicked, spat upon, speared by Confederate battle flags, and had their eyes gouged by the rioters. “We must honor those brave men and women who fought for hours against medieval-style waves of violence raining down on them,” said Raskin.
But McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said that at least 445 people already have been arrested in connection with the assault and investigations are ongoing with at least another hundred people expected to be charged. He said that bipartisan investigations also are underway in Senate committees.
“It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could lay on top of the existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress,” he said. “The facts have come out and will continue to come out.”
Schumer, however, vowed there will be Senate votes on the bill.
“What the House Republicans are doing is beyond crazy, to be so far under the thumb of Donald J. Trump,” Schumer said. “Letting the most dishonest president in American history dictate the prerogatives of the Republican Party will be its demise, mark my words. Whatever that means for Democrats, it is bad for America.”
At least one Senate Republican, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, told reporters Wednesday that he is “inclined to support” the commission proposal, according to a Capitol Hill pool feed. Asked if he agrees with McConnell that the commission’s setup is unbalanced politically, Cassidy replied: “At this point, I do not.”
Sen. Susan Collins, (R-Maine), told reporters that she supports the concept of a commission to review what happened on Jan. 6, but has concerns about parts of the House bill, including provisions on how staffers would be picked.
“I also think it’s important that this be independent and nonpartisan, and that means that we should make sure that the work is done this year and does not go over into the election year,” Collins said.
Like McConnell, House Republican leaders recommended a vote against the commission.
A memo from GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said that the legislation is intended “only to investigate” the Jan. 6 attack and not “political violence leading up to and following the attack on the 6th,” including the June 2017 shooting at a GOP congressional baseball team practice that left Scalise severely injured and near death.
The lone shooter in that case, James Hodgkinson, died of his injuries shortly after the attack. Republicans, pointing to his social media posts advocating for Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and liberal causes, long have contended Hodgkinson was politically motivated to harm Republicans.
The GOP leadership memo also cited other ongoing investigations and said that a Jan. 6 commission could undermine prosecutions.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had asked for an even split of members by party on the commission and equal subpoena power, and the measure included that, Democrats said.
Under the bill, H.R. 3233, a commission would be appointed made up of 10 members, five appointed by congressional leaders in each party. The members would not be members of Congress or anyone employed by Congress but rather experts in law enforcement, the military, civil rights, technology and more.
Subpoenas would be issued only through an agreement by the Democratic chair and Republican vice chair.
The Biden administration said in a Statement of Administration Policy that it backed the measure. “The attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on our democracy, an effort to undo the will of the American people and threaten the peaceful transition of power,” the statement said.
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said “it is long past time” to launch an investigation. “We need a commission with the power and the authority to collect evidence and make recommendations across multiple agencies, committees and branches of government impacted by the attack,” she said.
Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman of a commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, urged that the Jan. 6 commission be approved.
“Today, democracy faces a new threat,” Kean and Hamilton said in a statement. “The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country. Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened. As we did in the wake of September 11, it’s time to set aside partisan politics and come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice.”
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