Even on a grave matter of national security, the GOP has concluded that the political price for standing with former President Donald Trump is preferable to the electoral cost of breaking with the disgraced former President.
More than four months after Trump stoked the January 6 rebellion with his lies about the 2020 election, the vast majority of GOP lawmakers demonstrated this week that they see no upside for revisiting the dangerous events that unfolded at the Capitol even if it means that Americans will never get a full explanation of how close Trump’s supporters came to overthrowing democracy — findings that could prevent a similar incident from happening again.
Trump was already issuing threats Thursday to Republicans who voted for the bipartisan commission, stating that “there are consequences to being ineffective and weak” and adding, “The voters understand!”
“See, 35 wayward Republicans—they just can’t help themselves. We have much better policy and are much better for the country, but the Democrats stick together, the Republicans don’t,” he said in a statement.
GOP leaders have been surprisingly frank about their political aversion to the commission this week — making it clear that they are less concerned about getting to the truth of what happened than they are about getting voters focused on issues other than Trump’s role in the January 6 riot by the time the midterm elections roll around.
That GOP argument rang hollow given that Democrats may now form their own committee to look into the events of January 6, producing an outcome that will inevitably be cast as more partisan than the product that a bipartisan commission would have produced.
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, one of several Republicans who told CNN that he would vote to block debate on the bill, argued that his colleagues “want to get everything out” but “they also don’t want it to be the focus of the 2022 election.”
Even GOP senators who voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial earlier this year appear to be edging away from further examination of the January 6 events.
The desire of Republicans to move on from the January 6 events has meant that some of them have downplayed the violence that unfolded at the US Capitol as justification for the argument that a bipartisan commission is unnecessary.
And individual criminal cases will not provide a full accounting of the incitement by Trump that led to the riot, probe how much members of his extended political orbit knew about the intent of the mobsters or tackle the security failings on January 6. A commission would also have been sure to have examined whether the Trump White House made any effort to defend the Capitol while it was under attack.
A fallback option for Democrats
Faced with the likelihood that the commission will be killed in the Senate, Democrats must now confront what’s next.
Party leaders were well aware that an independent, bipartisan commission would be by far the most effective way of holding Trump to account since its findings — likely to be deeply critical of the former President — would have greater credibility than an investigation centered in a hyper-partisan Congress.
“The preference, not only preference — overwhelming preference — is for bipartisanship,” Pelosi said on Thursday.
But one option for Pelosi is the formation of a select committee with a Democratic majority to investigate the events surrounding January 6. Democrats have institutional responsibilities and political considerations in pursuing accountability and the details of what happened behind closed doors in Congress and the White House during the frenetic hours surrounding the Capitol insurrection.
A spectacle of televised hearings and demands for leaders like McCarthy to testify would help Democrats remind voters — especially in critical suburban battlegrounds — that their opponents in the midterms are apologists for the most demagogic President in modern history. It could also embarrass McCarthy himself as he sets his sights on becoming speaker from January 2023. The downside is that the hearings could turn into the kind of unhinged circus staged by Trump’s allies during his first impeachment process.
The Benghazi example helps to expose the deep hypocrisy of the Republican effort to kill the commission on the grounds that it is little more than a partisan effort by Democrats to damage Trump — whose wrongdoing is not in dispute since it occurred on live television and targeted the citadel of American democracy.
In 2015, McCarthy, who was then House Majority leader, celebrated the Select Committee on Benghazi’s success in harming Clinton’s political hopes, a sentiment that was far more partisan than anything Democratic leaders have so far said about the bipartisan commission to examine January 6.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy said on Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.”
To abandon inquiries into the outrage now would be to reward multiple efforts by Trump’s acolytes in Congress to whitewash the truth about the mob that invaded the Capitol after the ex-President told them to “fight like Hell” to disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
It would also hand the Republicans another strategic victory — playing into their effort to ignore the fallout from January 6 and exclusively put the focus on Biden’s sweeping liberal agenda in the run-up to the midterms elections in November 2022.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, has argued that lawmakers need to fully understand what occurred on January 6 to prevent a similar “act of domestic terrorism.” On Thursday evening, he rejected the arguments of McCarthy and McConnell, stating that the deal for the commission was negotiated in a bipartisan fashion and “couldn’t be more evenly balanced.”
“Those arguments against it are just window dressing,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.” “The bottom line is Donald Trump doesn’t want it and they’ve made the decision they’re going to make their future with him regardless of his role in that insurrection.”
The ideal outcome, Schiff said, would be to proceed with a bipartisan commission that has the kind of stature that the 9/11 commission did.
“But we are going to insist on getting answers one way or the other.”