Washington — The House will vote on legislation to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, amid growing opposition from Republicans who object to the proposed structure and scope of the panel. The bill, which was negotiated in part by a GOP congressman, is expected to pass with support from the narrow Democratic majority and some more moderate Republicans.
Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson and Republican Congressman John Katko, respectively the chair and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, reached a deal late last week on legislation to create a bipartisan panel to investigate the assault by a violent mob of Trump supporters. The bill made two significant concessions to Republicans, as the panel would be evenly divided between members appointed by Democrats and Republicans and give the GOP-appointed commissioners veto power over any subpoena.
But it would also be narrowly focused on January 6, and some Republicans have argued the panel should also examine violence that occurred last summer related to protests against racism and police brutality.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyon Tuesday, and Minority Whip Steve Scalise sent a memo urging Republican members to vote against it, arguing that the scope of the bill was too narrow and had the potential to interfere with other ongoing investigations.
However, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus voted to endorse the bill late Tuesday, indicating that some Republicans will be willing to break with GOP leadership to support the legislation. The group requires three-quarters of its 58 members — 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans — to endorse a bill, meaning that at least 15 Republicans from the group are likely to support it.
Ten House Republicans, including Katko, voted to impeach former President Donald Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection in January, and most of these members are expected to support the legislation creating a commission.
The mob of Trump supporters which attacked the Capitol sought to overturn the results of the presidential election. The siege resulted in five deaths and hundreds of injuries, as well as significant physical damage to the building itself.
More than 100 House Republicans, including McCarthy, voted against certifying the results of the election in several states just hours after the riot on January 6. Mr. Trump remains popular among Republican voters, and McCarthy is focused on retaking the House in the 2022 midterm elections. Creating a commission could anger the former president and his supporters, a political risk ahead of a critical election.
Mr. Trump announced his opposition to the commission in a statement on Tuesday evening, calling it a “Democrat trap.”
“Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left. Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!” Mr. Trump said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, McConnell left the door open to supporting the legislation, saying that his caucus is “willing to listen to the arguments” about whether a commission is needed.
“I’m not saying that we have decided that this cannot go forward,” McConnell said. He said that he was specifically concerned about partisan “balance” at the staff level.
If McConnell does not end up supporting the bill, it could be a death knell for bipartisan efforts to create a commission. Bills require 60 votes to advance in the Senate, which is evenly divided. Unless 10 Republicans agree to support the creation of a commission, the legislation would die in the upper chamber.
Regardless of whether the bill gets sufficient Republican support, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged that he would bring it to the Senate floor for a vote. In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Schumer slammed Republicans for continuing to stand with Mr. Trump despite his repeated false claims that the election was stolen.
“Shame on the Republicans for choosing the big lie over the truth — not all Republicans, but the majority who seem to be doing it,” Schumer said. “The American people will see for themselves whether our Republican friends stand on the side of truth or on the side of Donald Trump’s big lie.”
The White House also expressed support for the bill in a statement of administration policy by the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday.
“The Nation deserves such a full and fair accounting to prevent future violence and strengthen the security and resilience of our democratic institutions,” the statement said.
Many House Republicans have sought to downplay the attack in recent days. GOP Congressman Andrew Clyde said during a contentious hearing last week that the footage showing rioters infiltrating Capitol property and threatening lawmakers and members of the media resembled “a normal tourist visit.” Clyde was one of the House lawmakers photographed barricading the door of the House chamber to block rioters from entering the room on January 6, belying his comments that the attack was similar to an ordinary visit by tourists.
House Republicans also voted to oust Congresswoman Liz Cheney from her position as GOP conference chair last week because of her frequent criticism of the former president and her refusal to downplay the attack on January 6. She was replaced by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a staunch supporter of the former president. Cheney has been a vocal advocate of creating a commission, and suggested that McCarthy should be called as a witness because of a phone call he had with Mr. Trump on January 6 while the riot was ongoing.
Details of the phone call emerged in February during the president’s second impeachment trial, when GOP Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler described the conversation in a statement. Herrera Beutler said that McCarthy told her that he had asked the president to publicly and forcefully tell the rioters to stop, but “the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol.”
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,'” wrote Herrera Beutler, who also voted to impeach Mr. Trump and is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
The bill up for a vote Wednesday would create a commission similar to the panel created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to study the “facts and causes” of the attack “as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy,” according to a fact sheet on the legislation.
The commissioners would be required to have “significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cybersecurity,” and could not be current government employees or officers. Like the 9/11 commission, the panel would have the authority to issue subpoenas, but only upon the agreement of the chair and vice chair or a majority vote by all the commissioners.
The commission would be required to submit a report of its findings, “along with recommendations to prevent future attacks on our democratic institutions,” by December 31.