House backs commission on Jan. 6 riot over GOP objections
WASHINGTON — The House voted to create an independent commission on the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, sending the legislation to an uncertain future in the Senate as Republican leaders work to stop a bipartisan investigation that is opposed by former President Donald Trump.
Democrats say an independent investigation is crucial to reckoning what happened that day, when a violent mob of Trump's supporters smashed into the Capitol to try and overturn President Joe Biden's victory. Modeled after the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the legislation would establish an independent, 10-member commission that would make recommendations by the end of the year for securing the Capitol and preventing another insurrection.
The bill passed the House on Wednesday 252-175, with 35 Republicans voting with Democrats in support of the commission, defying Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. Trump issued a statement urging Republicans to vote against it, calling the legislation a “Democrat trap.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is trying to prevent defections among his own ranks, echoing McCarthy's opposition in a Senate floor speech Wednesday morning. Both men claimed the bill was partisan, even though membership of the proposed commission would be evenly split between the parties.
The January insurrection has become an increasingly fraught topic for Republicans, with a growing number in the party downplaying the severity of the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years. While most Republicans voted against forming the commission, only a few spoke on the floor against it. And the handful of Republicans who backed the commission spoke forcefully.
“This is about facts — it’s not partisan politics,” said New York Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee who negotiated the legislation with Democrats. He said “the American people and the Capitol Police deserve answers, and action as soon as possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said that Jan. 6 “is going to haunt this institution for a long, long time” and that a commission is necessary to find the truth about what happened. He recalled that he “heard the shouts, saw the flash-bangs, smelled the gas on that sorry day.”
Democrats grew angry as some Republicans suggested the commission was only intended to smear Trump. Several shared their own memories of the insurrection, when rioters brutally beat police, broke in through windows and doors and sent lawmakers running. Four of the rioters died, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber. A Capitol Police officer collapsed and died after engaging with the protesters, and two officers took their own lives in the days after.
“We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship? What else has to happen in this country?” shouted Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, on the floor just before the vote. He said the GOP opposition is “a slap in the face to every rank and file cop in the United States.”
The vote was yet another test of Republican loyalty to Trump, whose grip on the party remains strong despite his election defeat. House Republicans booted Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership last week for her criticism of Trump’s false claims, installing a Trump loyalist in her place. Cheney, in turn, suggested to ABC News that a commission could subpoena McCarthy because he spoke to Trump during the insurrection.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called McCarthy’s opposition to the commission “cowardice.” She released a February letter from the GOP leader in which he asked for an even split of Democrats and Republican commissioners, equal subpoena power and no predetermined findings or conclusions. The bipartisan legislation accommodates all three of those requests, she said.
“Leader McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer,” she said.
In the Senate, McConnell’s announcement dimmed the prospects for passage, as Democrats would need at least ten Republicans to vote with them. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed to force a vote on the bill, charging that Republicans are “caving” to Trump.
Schumer said that Republicans are trying to “sabotage the commission” and are “drunk” off Trump's baseless claim that the election was stolen from him. That false assertion, repeated by the mob as the rioters broke into the Capitol, has been rebuked by numerous courts, bipartisan election officials across the country and Trump’s own attorney general.