House Approves Commission to Investigate Jan. 6 Breach of US Capitol

May 19, 2021 Updated: May 25, 2021

The U.S. House of Representatives voted late Wednesday to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.

The vote was 252-175, with all 217 Democrats in favor of the measure and 35 Republicans joining. The bill now goes to the evenly-divided Senate for a vote.

The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex Act, also known as HR 3233, is modeled after the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The proposed measure would create in the legislative branch an independent, 10-member commission to investigate “relevant facts and circumstances relating to the attack on the Capitol,” and “evaluate the causes of and the lessons learned from this attack.”

The commission must also submit reports of their findings, alongside recommendations to “improve the detection, prevention, preparedness for, and response to targeted violence and domestic terrorism and improve the security posture of the U.S. Capitol Complex.”

The bill will grant the commission powers such as the authority to hold hearings, receive evidence, and issue subpoenas. It also enables the commission to appoint staff.

The White House on May 18 came out in support of the legislation, saying in a statement that it is also taking actions to improve safety and security at the U.S. Capitol.

Capitol Breach Security
Members of the National Guard open a gate in the razor wire topped perimeter fence around the Capitol at sunrise in Washington, on March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump on the same day said in a statement that Republicans in both congressional chambers “should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission,” calling the initiative from Democrats “just more partisan unfairness.” He added, “unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately,” referring to the riots fueled by far-left ideology that occurred in cities across the nation last year following the police murder of George Floyd.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)—the two top House Republicans—also opposed the bill. McCarthy, who was first to formally announce his opposition to the bill, said that its scope is too narrow and should include other political violence such as the riots in multiple cities last year.

On Jan. 6, lawmakers gathered at the U.S. Capitol for a joint session of Congress to count and certify Electoral College votes for the 2020 presidential election. But proceedings in the chambers were interrupted in the afternoon when a small group of rioters led a breach of the Capitol building as thousands of protesters, mostly peaceful, remained outside.

It remains unclear who instigated the incident around 2:15 p.m. By 6 p.m. that day, officials declared the building had been secured. Congressional proceedings continued and lawmakers in the early hours of Jan. 7 certified the Electoral College votes for Joe Biden.

A total of five deaths were recorded in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 incident. Of the deaths, Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt was determined to have died from homicide after being shot by police for climbing through a smashed window deeper into the Capitol building. Capitol officer Brian Sicknick was determined to have died of natural causes, despite the U.S. Capitol Police initially claiming that his death was from injuries sustained during riots.

Another three people died outside the Capitol building but on Capitol grounds. Two of the deaths were found to be from natural causes—both were men in their 50s who died of hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The remaining death of a woman in her 30s was from a drug overdose ruled as an accident.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy