WASHINGTON – Thirty-five Republicans joined Democrats Wednesday in passing a bill to create a bipartisan, independent commission to thoroughly investigate the Capitol riot Jan. 6, giving hope to backers it might also pass the Senate despite Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s opposition.
The bill creating the panel would give the commission subpoena power to call witnesses and produce a report by Dec. 31. Modeled after the widely hailed, independent panel that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, this commission would be charged with scrutinizing what provoked a pro-Trump mob to assault the Capitol and what can be done to prevent another attack.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Americans would have confidence in the commission’s findings because it is bipartisan. She also said that the report and recommendations would carry more weight for combining all the information uncovered about the attack, in contrast to a series of hearings working on narrow topics.
“It sounds like they’re afraid of the truth and that’s most unfortunate,” Pelosi said of Republican opposition. “But hopefully they will get used to the idea that the American people want us to find the truth and that’s what we intend to do.”
The vote on the bill was 252-175. It now heads to the Senate.
McConnell criticizedthe bill, co-sponsored by Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson and New York Republican John Katko, as “slanted and unbalanced.” One of McConnell’s concerns is that the Democratic chairman would control staff hiring.
McConnell’s opposition could be enough to torpedo the commission, seen by Democrats as necessary to independently examine the insurrection by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6 that left five dead and 140 police officers injured.
Leading GOP lawmakers, including House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have said they oppose any commission that would look at the Jan. 6 attack without examining protests by Black Lives Matter activists during the summer.
A group of U.S. Capitol Police officers wrote a letter, obtained by USA TODAY, that expresses “profound disappointment” with recent comments from McCarthy and McConnell for expressing “no need” for a commission.
“The brave men and women of the USCP were subjected to hours and hours of physical trauma which has led to months of mental anguish,” they wrote in the letter that was circulated by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
The USCP later tweeted that the letter, written by a group of officers, is “NOT an official USCP statement” and the agency “does not take positions on legislation.”
Former president Donald Trump, who was impeached for inciting the mob on Jan. 6, urged McCarthy and McConnell to oppose a bill he called a “trap.”
“It is just more partisan unfairness and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately,” the former president said in a statement issued Tuesday night through his Save America PAC. “Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left.”
But the chairs of the Sept. 11 commission – former congressman Lee Jordan, D-Ind., and former New Jersey GOP Gov. Tom Kean – urged Congress to pass the bill.
“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,” the two said in a joint statement Wednesday. “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.”
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who was in the House chamber when rioters stormed the Capitol and temporarily halted the Electoral College vote count confirming President Joe Biden’s victory, said the events of that day demand a thorough and independent review.
“We need this commission because the American people must understand exactly what happened so we can all forge a more resilient democracy,” she said on the House floor before Wednesday’s vote. “We need this commission because on Jan. 6 I was lying on the floor to avoid possible shooters in this very chamber, holding a gas mask in one hand and a phone in the other as I called my husband in case I didn’t make it home.”
If approved, the 10-member commission:
- Would study the facts and circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 attack and what provoked it.
- Would be appointed with five members from Democrats and five from Republicans. Commissioners are expected to have expertise in law enforcement, civil rights and intelligence.
- Could issue subpoenas to secure information, with approval required by a majority of commission members or by agreement between the Democratic chairman and Republican vice chairman.
As head of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has already held hearings which exposed a lack of training, equipment and intelligence sharing that put Capitol Police officers at risk. She said the commission will find out what happened and why.
“A howling mob attacked the United States Capitol,” Lofgren said. “They were pounding on the doors. They had maimed police officers. They were chanting, ‘Hang Mike Pence.’ Who paid for them to come here? Who incited them?”
“After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to oppose the House Democrat’s slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January 6th,” the Kentucky Republican said from the floor.
A day after saying he was undecided on the commission, McConnell said he made his views about the insurrection “very clear” and that law enforcement are continuing to make arrests and “bipartisan investigations are also under way and have been for months at the committee level here in the Senate.”
Because of this, there will be “no shortage of robust investigations by two separate branches of the government” McConnell argued. “It is not at all clear what new facts or an additional investigation — yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress.
“The facts have come out, and they will continue to come out,’ he said.
While McConnell’s opposition figures to weigh heavily within the GOP caucus, several GOP Senators wish to see the commission proceed, meaning Democrats could reach the necessary 60 votes.
“This was an attack on the constitutional transfer of power in a peaceful manner, and an attack on the symbol of democracy around the world,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Tuesday. “If they want to look at other things, why perhaps they can do that another way. But the key thing that needs to be associated with this effort would be the attack on this building.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said he supported a commission with the same number of members for each party, as the House proposed. He said studying riots beyond what happened Jan. 6 would place too heavy a burden the Capitol commission.
“If we want to broaden that, it’ll be a lot,” Tuberville said of Jan. 6. “Heck, we’ve had a lot of riots. I don’t know whether you want to make it the same commission. I don’t know whether you want to mix that. I think probably if you do one, you’d want to do both, and you might need to do a different group where you can do it, do due diligence and get them done in a short period of time.”
And Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy told reporters Wednesday he does not share McConnell’s view that the proposal is “slanted and unbalanced.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she supported a 9/11-style commission, but that changes in the House bill would be needed for her support. She echoed McConnell in criticizing the House bill for allowing the Democratic chairman to oversee all staffing.
“That’s not right,” Collins said.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., whose job is to count votes, said it wasn’t clear whether 10 Senate Republicans would join Democrats in overcoming a filibuster and approving the commission.
“There are some of our members who I think obviously have an interest in seeing the commission go forward and others who think it would be counterproductive because of the work that’s already been done, and that it could be weaponized politically and drug into next year,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed McConnell beforehand, pledging nevertheless, the “Senate will vote on Jan 6th commission. It ought to gain bipartisan support. There are reports, sad, unfortunate reports, the Republican Leader here in the Senate might be following his House colleagues down the rabbit hole and will oppose the commission. I hope that isn’t true.”
McConnell’s criticism follows McCarthy’s own condemnation of the effort to create the panel, which would have subpoena power.
But McCarthy, of California, opposed the bill creating a commission and accused Pelosi of dragging her feet in negotiations. He said that numerous committees are reviewing the event and that the Architect of the Capitol, which oversees the building and grounds, was allocated $10 million to remedy security vulnerabilities.