First, Republicans argued that an independent, bipartisan investigation into the events of January 6 was inappropriate because it could interfere with ongoing investigations conducted by law enforcement. Then, they claimed that the proposed independent commission’s remit was too narrow; that it should be empowered to investigate all mass violence, particularly the riots that engulfed almost every American city in the summer of 2020.
When the plan for an independent commission failed in the Senate, only to be replaced by a proposal for a Democrat-led House select committee, Republicans insisted it was a partisan fishing expedition. Whatever the commission found, the results would be tainted by the political polarization that prevails in Washington. Republicans might have left it at that, but they just couldn’t. Their latest effort to discredit the investigation into January 6 is likely to have the precise opposite of its intended effect.
One week ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of the five Republican members that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy recommended to serve on that commission—Jim Banks and Jim Jordan. But not, she claimed, because these two members supported efforts to reject the certification of 2020’s election results from a variety of closely contested states. To admit that this was the rationale would be to indict the commission’s chair, Rep. Benny Thompson; after all, he had joined 30 of his fellow Democrats in objecting to the certification of Ohio’s election results in 2005. Instead, she justified her actions by citing the threat these members posed to the “integrity of the investigation.” It was imprecise enough to give Republicans a talking point in favor of their claim that the commission was designed to be a partisan affair. But what McCarthy did with that talking point was utterly ponderous.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees,” McCarthy said, “Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.” Given Republican opposition to every form in which a January 6 commission might have taken, it’s reasonable to dismiss this statement of support for a GOP-led investigation into the events of that day as a pique-fueled flourish. But in the days that followed, the party’s more MAGA-leaning members in the lower chamber latched onto McCarthy’s big idea.
“It is a fact that the U.S. Capitol Police raised concerns [ahead of January 6],” Rep. Elise Stefanik recently asserted, “and rather than provide them with the support and resources they deserved, [Nancy Pelosi] prioritized her partisan political optics over their safety.” Stefanik’s allegation continued: “The American people deserve to know the truth that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6.” She added that Pelosi merely objected to seating Banks and Jordan on that commission to avoid an inquiry into her role in the riot that targeted the Capitol.
Jordan subsequently lent credence to Stefanik’s claim. “Why didn’t the United States Capitol—the people’s house—have an appropriate security posture on that day?” he asked. “Those are the people we need to hear from. That’s the information and testimony we need to get.” He added that only “the Speaker’s office knows what the security posture [was] and why it was the way it was.”
Given all these outstanding questions, it sure sounds like we need an independent commission to investigate the events of January 6.
Regardless of the merits of the claim that Pelosi bears responsibility for leaving the Capitol open to being ransacked by a pro-Trump mob (a claim that contradicts what we know about security preparations ahead of the event and misrepresents the Speaker’s authority over the committees that oversee security on the Hill), that’s an allegation so inflammatory that we should hope to see an investigation into the claim. That is, unless ambiguity is what these members would actually prefer.
Though it seems a distant memory now, it was only three months ago that Rep. Liz Cheney was ousted from her House leadership role because the Republican Party could not “move forward” while she obsessed over the events of January 6. To judge from this new messaging campaign, Cheney’s harshest critics within the Republican conference are now willing to concede that she was right; there’s no moving on from the events of January 6 with so many outstanding questions about the chain of events that led to the sacking of the Capitol Building. In their effort to win the news cycle, whatever the cost, the MAGA wing of the GOP in the House has just handed their critics a major victory. And the hearings have only just begun.