House Democrats mulling their next steps for investigating the Capitol attack of Jan. 6 have reached at least one early verdict: doing nothing is not an option.
Five months after the rampage, Democrats remain shaken by the violence, resentful of Republicans blocking probes into it, and devoted to launching a deep-dive examination — even if that means going it alone.
“It’s up to us to figure out how we proceed, but we must proceed,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyPelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative Rep. Connolly calls for Biden to create Jan. 6 commission GOP downplays Jan. 6 violence: Like a ‘normal tourist visit’ MORE (D-Va.). “This is one of the most critical events in American history; this is only the second time the United States Capitol has been under assault physically, and it was from fellow Americans.”
The debate over how to investigate the Jan. 6 attack has shifted internally after Senate Republicans, pressured by former President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook to end policy shielding politicians from content moderation rules: reports US government found no evidence that Navy UFO sightings were alien spacecraft: report More than a dozen police officers still on medical leave from Jan. 6 injuries MORE, blocked bipartisan legislation to create an independent, 9/11-style commission examining the deadly riot. The attack was inspired by Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen, which prompted a mob of his supporters to try to prevent Congress’s certification of his election defeat.
In a call this week with House Democrats, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House: Biden will not appoint presidential Jan. 6 commission Poll: Majority of Republicans support Medicare negotiations for prescription drug prices New coalition lobbies Congress on ‘smarter’ infrastructure MORE (D-Calif.) floated four different routes Congress could take: have the Senate vote again on the House-passed bill to create an outside commission; form a select House committee, consisting of lawmakers hand-picked by leaders in both parties; allow several sitting committees to continue their probes into Jan. 6; or empower a single House committee, like Homeland Security or Oversight, to take the lead on the investigation.
Some Democrats who sit on the Homeland Security Committee argued that their panel should take on an expanded role in the investigation.
“The Homeland Security Committee has been committed, in a bipartisan manner, to finding facts about Jan. 6 and preventing another attack on our Capitol,” Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerOvernight Defense: Austin nears decision on military sexual assault reform | Dems wage high-profile fight | Lawmakers push to replenish Iron Dome House lawmakers call on Pentagon to support replenishment of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system Biden faces growing pressure to take action on antisemitism MORE (D-N.J.) told The Hill on Thursday. “The committee has a long track record of constructive bipartisan work for what’s best for our country.”
After all, it was Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonPelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative Biden formally ends Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ immigration program New Russian hacks spark calls for tougher Biden actions MORE (D-Miss.) and New York Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoKevin McCarthy should meet the Ronald Reagan of 1978 Liz Cheney spent K on security in months after Trump impeachment vote New Russian hacks spark calls for tougher Biden actions MORE, the panel’s top Republican, who unexpectedly cut a deal last month on legislation to create an independent commission, evenly split with five Democrats and five Republicans, and with equal subpoena power.
Thirty five Republicans joined all Democrats in passing the bill through the House, even as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyKevin McCarthy should meet the Ronald Reagan of 1978 Trump rips Biden for ending ‘Remain in Mexico’ program: A ‘disastrous decision’ Democrats won a mandate — now it’s time to act like it MORE (R-Calif.) and his leadership team came out against it. That bipartisan vote was a testament to the work of Thompson, a genial, soft-spoken Southerner, and Katko, chairman of a centrist GOP caucus that previously was known as the Tuesday Group.
Other Democrats agreed that Homeland Security should take the investigative lead, noting that the panel would have a head start in probing Jan. 6 and that Thompson and Katko would lend a degree of bipartisan credibility to an issue that’s been plagued by partisanship.
“I’d be open to the two of them working toward accommodation,” said Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchOn the Money: Tech giants face rising pressure from shareholder activists | House Democrats urge IRS to reverse Trump-era rule reducing donor disclosure | Sen. Warren, Jamie Dimon spar over overdraft fees at Senate hearing House Democrats urge IRS to reverse Trump-era rule reducing donor disclosure House Democrats request FTC investigate AbbVie’s pricing of Humira MORE (D-Vt.), who serves on the Oversight and Intelligence committees. “They’ve shown that they have the desire and the ability to do that.”
The Thompson-Katko bill wasn’t received as well in the Senate. With threats from Trump and an aggressive whip effort by Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop manufacturing group presses Congress to protect ‘Dreamers’ George Conway: GOP blocking Jan. 6 commission ‘more appalling’ than both Trump acquittals The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Deal or no deal? Biden, Capito continue infrastructure talks MORE (R-Ky.), Republicans rallied to block the House-passed bill. Yet backers of the Jan. 6 commission came close: Six Republicans crossed the aisle; a seventh, Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyWatch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: ‘I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying’ MORE (R-Pa.), said he would have voted yes if he hadn’t missed the vote.
That meant Democrats came just three votes shy — well within striking distance — of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.
Some Democrats think they could pick up three more Republican votes, especially with the mother of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after battling rioters on Jan. 6, aggressively lobbying lawmakers to create the commission. And they want Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Deal or no deal? Biden, Capito continue infrastructure talks Top union unveils national town hall strategy to push Biden’s jobs plan Let’s not put all our cars in the EV basket MORE (D-N.Y.) to call another vote soon on the House-passed bill.
The creation of a special committee also has its supporters. Pelosi has already formed such panels to examine climate change and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. And Republicans had used the concept to potent political effect heading into the 2016 elections, when their select Benghazi Committee spent years targeting former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas valedictorian goes viral after giving unapproved speech blasting state’s anti-abortion bill Trump DOJ seized phone records of New York Times reporters Clinton applauds Osaka’s courage amid French Open controversy MORE.
“If Republicans won’t join us to protect our democracy, we have an obligation to do it ourselves,” Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.), a member of the Administration Committee, said in pushing for a select committee.
Yet others are warning that formation of a select committee would lend too much power to McCarthy, who has shifted from holding Trump responsible for the Jan. 6 attack to embracing the former president as a crucial ally in the GOP’s effort to flip control of the House in the 2022 midterms. In such a case, McCarthy is in line for the Speakership.
“I think McCarthy would probably appoint people from the Sedition Caucus,” said Connolly, referring to the 139 House Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election results just hours after the Capitol came under siege.
Although McCarthy was among the first lawmakers to promote a 9/11-style investigation — and delegated Katko to lead the GOP negotiations — he has since reversed course to oppose the concept as “duplicative and potentially counterproductive,” a turnaround that caught even Katko by surprise.
Democrats have rejected the notion that an additional probe would be redundant, pointing to a number of questions surrounding Jan. 6 that remain outstanding. Among those questions are the details of what Trump was doing that day; why he took so long to call off the mob; what exactly was said between Trump and McCarthy during a phone call in the midst of the attack; and what communications, if any, members of Congress had with the rioters before and during the rampage.
“I don’t believe the Republicans have much standing, having just defeated having any investigation at all,” said Connolly.
Connolly, for one, is pushing a fifth investigative option: having President BidenJoe BidenWHO warns of continent-wide third wave of coronavirus infections in Africa 30 House Democrats urge Biden to do more for global vaccine distribution Manchin isn’t ready to support Democrats passing infrastructure on their own MORE, by executive order, create a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, similar to the Warren Commission that was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
“We’ve had presidential commissions in the past; they command a lot of authority and respect,” Connolly said. “They elevate the issue, and the president could pick known Republicans, as well as Democrats, who are statesmen and stateswomen who care about this country.”
Yet Pelosi has all but ruled out the idea, raising concerns about the lack of subpoena power. And others are citing what they see as another disadvantage to a presidential commission: It would put Biden in the tough spot of investigating someone — Donald Trump — who could potentially be his challenger in 2024.
“The president doesn’t want to get in the middle of this,” Welch told The Hill. “He’s got a day job.”
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiManchin isn’t ready to support Democrats passing infrastructure on their own Hillicon Valley: Biden steps up pressure on Russia to go after cyber criminals | All JBS facilities up and running after ransomware attack | Justice Dept. gives ransomware same priority as terrorism Maloney grills Colonial Pipeline on decision to pay ransom to hackers MORE also threw cold water on the presidential commission, saying that since Congress was targeted on Jan. 6, it has “a unique role and ability to carry out that investigation.”
Amid the debate, a number of Republican lawmakers are openly denying that there ever was rampant violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Others maintain, falsely, that there were no weapons brought into the Capitol that day, while still others contend, also falsely, that the perpetrators were not Trump supporters.
“It wasn’t just right-wing extremists,” Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertGohmert: Jan. 6 ‘wasn’t just right-wing extremists’ House GOP fights back against mask, metal detector fines Sixth House member issued ,000 security screening fine MORE (R-Texas) told a crowd of conservatives in Texas last weekend.
Such comments have only fueled the indignation of lawmakers who had warned of the dangers surrounding Trump’s election lies — and had feared for their lives on Jan. 6. It’s also stoked the Democrats’ efforts to launch a thorough investigation, with or without GOP support.
“When someone does that, we revisit the issue all over again,” said Connolly. “And it just freshens everybody’s memory about the depths of denial and delusion … and willful enabling of a violent mob and violent actors who plotted this event.”