On Wednesday evening, the House authorized the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. In the process, 35 Republican representatives bucked GOP leadership to vote in favor of the commission that will investigate not just events of that day, but how the nation came to face a violent insurgency and an attack on democracy.
The overwhelming 252-175 vote in the House came after Republican leaders at first expressed support for the idea of such a commission in the immediate wake of the attack. The actual design for the commission came from a bipartisan agreement of the Homeland Security Committee, and gave Republicans equal representation in the investigation, as well as what amounts to veto power over any subpoenas. That such a Republican-friendly agreement was reached seemed to surprise Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who initially refused to say whether he would support the deal. Then McCarthy let it be known that he would not whip other Republicans to vote against it. Then he did exactly that.
Now the proposed commission moves to the Senate, where—despite Sen. Mitch McConnell’s speech calling Jan. 6 “a disgrace” that happened because Americans were “fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth”—McConnell has already announced that he will oppose it. At the moment, not a single Republican in the Senate has spoken up to support the bill.
Because when all is said and done, they’re all still following the orders of the same man, who is still spreading the same wild falsehoods.
The commission designed by the House Homeland Security Committee could not be more straightforward or more generous in the power it gives to the minority party. Modeled after a similar body created to investigate 9/11, the commission is “charged with studying the facts and circumstances surrounding the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy.”
The 10-person panel is to be composed not of political figures, but of individuals with “significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cybersecurity.” Anyone currently serving in government is not eligible, and the selections are to be split evenly between majority and minority leadership in the House and Senate. The commission can issue subpoenas, but the subpoenas must be approved by both the Democratic chair and Republican vice chair.
In terms of the structure and purpose, the commission created by the House bill is in no way slanted toward a Democratic position. The fact that Democrats have agreed to this structure despite holding a majority in the House and Senate is testament to the idea that they simply want to know the truth.
Which is, of course, the problem.
Because a lot of Republicans stand to be put in a very, very bad light if the full truth comes out. Not least the man who was the ultimate source of “wild falsehoods.” That’s why this week, Donald Trump used his new web page to insist that the strikingly bipartisan commission was a “Democrat trap” and “partisan unfairness.” And Trump provided the talking points by saying that any commission should also investigate every act of violence that Republicans blame on Democrats, even if exactly none of those events threatened to overturn the outcome of the election and destroy our system of government.
Both Republicans and right-wing media immediately picked up on Trump’s theme, with McCarthy issuing a statement saying that he could not support the commission because it would not investigate “political violence” on the left. Which makes all the sense of refusing to vote for a 9/11 commission unless it also covered Vietnam protests. Or the civil rights movement.
There is no connection, nor comparison, between what happened on Jan. 6 and what happened during Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd. No connection except how men like Trump and McCarthy used lies about about the Black Lives Matter protests to help stir anger among many of the same groups behind the violence on Jan. 6.
When McConnell spoke on Feb. 13, he agreed that “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty” and that “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.” McConnell also pushed back against Republicans who had voted in the House or Senate against certifying the election. In fact, as of Tuesday, McConnell had said he was open to voting for the commission.
But, as The New York Times reports, McConnell “reversed” his position and declared his opposition to the commission. McConnell has made it clear that not only will he vote no, he will also insist that other Republicans vote against the commission.
That reversal came “amid pressure from Mr. Trump.” And now McConnell is absolutely sticking to the Trump line, voicing the same nonsensical claims that the studiously bipartisan commission would somehow be unfair because it’s not also looking at events totally unrelated to the assault on the Capitol. Before Trump’s statement, getting the commission passed by the Senate seemed like a given. Now it seems impossible. That change in tone came after both McConnell and McCarthy “joined … Mr. Trump in panning the proposal.”
The man who McConnell explicitly said is “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day” is being allowed to quash an investigation of those events. Even in exile, even in defeat, Trump rules the Republicans. And the reason is simple. As Politico notes, Trump is their “cash cow.”
In a party literally without a platform and with absolutely no vision for the future, the only means of engaging their voters—and donors—is through fear and anger. No one generates that fear and anger more than Trump. Republicans aren’t just giving in to Trump, they’re selling out.