Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an independent and bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on a 252-175 vote, with no fewer than 35 Republican members voting in favor of it. The U.S. Senate is expected to take up the matter soon, but most observers consider it doomed: The chances of persuading 10 GOP senators (the number needed to avoid a filibuster) is just too high a hurdle given opposition from Republican leadership including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Voting it down would be the wrong decision for any number of reasons, but at least one ought to be especially obvious to members of Congress: Opposing a 9/11 style investigation is not only bad for democracy but for the Republican brand. And the more bogus the excuses people like Senator McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy offer, the more pointless their position seems.
Americans will recall that the attempted insurrection was no minor footnote in history, nor was it a “normal tourist visit,” as Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde has described the incident. It resulted in five deaths and 138 Capitol police officers injured. It was a significant attack on a sacred democratic institution and predicated on the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. The then-sitting president incited the mob, some of whom called out for the hanging of his own vice president, Mike Pence. There is no serious argument that the event is unworthy of scrutiny, and surely it is destined to receive it. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pointed out, if an independent commission is rejected, more traditional (and likely more partisan) congressional investigations will take its place. There will be no sidestepping of the truth.
Yet, to listen to certain GOP members is to return to the alternative facts approach of the Trump administration where the truth is irrelevant. First, there are the complaints that the commission would be excessively partisan, when Republicans helped negotiate its terms and much of the language is lifted directly from the 9/11 Commission legislation. And considering that it takes two hands to count the number of Benghazi-related congressional investigations spearheaded by the GOP, it’s a lot of pot calling the kettle black. Then there’s the upset that the commission hasn’t been charged with investigating wholly unrelated violence in cities like Portland, Oregon, connected to the Black Lives Matter movement. Did BLM attempt a coup of the federal government that we somehow missed?
Some Republicans have erroneously claimed the report’s release would be timed for the 2022 elections, when it’s supposed to be completed by year’s end. They’ve said it would be staffed exclusively by Democrats, when all hires must be done “in consultation” with the commission’s vice-chair, a Republican appointee. And as for the commission’s scope, it would have the authority to cast a wider net if that’s what a majority of the half Democratic-appointed, half-Republican-appointed members chose to do.
The net effect of all these faulty arguments is to make it clear that many Republicans want the events of Jan. 6 to be given less attention. They are rightly embarrassed by what happened and likely do not wish to stir the party’s 800-pound gorilla, the former president who has given the enterprise a thumb’s down. Some are likely taking their cue from Mr. McCarthy who has apparently decided that it’s better to do a 180-degree turn (condemning the attack one day, minimizing its consequences the next) than see himself subpoenaed by the commission and forced to describe his interactions with Donald Trump during this day of infamy.
But does it let them off the hook? Surely not. Americans are not idiots. At the heart of Jan. 6 was an attempt to overturn the election. If Democrats move forward with what they’ve billed as a fair-minded, independent inquiry and turn it into a kangaroo court, then that’s on them. People can tell the difference between political theater and justice. Justice looks like the restrained, even-handed 9/11 report. Politics looks like Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar calling rioters “peaceful patriots” after they’ve smacked around police with flag poles and bats, and it’s all on videotape for the world to see. Far better for Republicans to put the national interest first and take their political lumps now, than let the Big Lie fester like an open wound into the 2022 election season, when, at least on paper, the GOP may otherwise have a respectable shot at recapturing a House majority. Unless, of course, Senate Republicans genuinely believe their core supporters side more with the QAnon Shaman than the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. If that’s the case, there are bigger problems ahead.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.