Legislation that would advance what is meant to be a bipartisan commission to probe the Jan. 6 Capitol incident is stuck in political quicksand, with fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans over the scope of the investigation and Republican charges that it would be used in a partisan fashion to score political points.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told MSNBC in an interview on March 17 that efforts have stalled to set up a bipartisan commission to probe the events around the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, with the main problem being what the investigation should focus on.
In a March 15 dear colleague letter, Pelosi said that one outstanding priority for Democrats “is to move forward with an outside 9/11-type Commission, with bipartisan support, to ‘investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6 domestic terrorist attack upon the Capitol Complex … and relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.'” Pelosi was quoting from a draft bill (pdf) that she provided to Republicans for their review and feedback last month.
“We must get to the truth of how the January 6 assault happened, and we must ensure that it cannot happen again,” Pelosi wrote in the letter, adding, “it is essential that we proceed in a bipartisan way in order to have a respected outcome.”
Republicans have panned Pelosi’s proposed legislation, which would give Democrats a 7–4 majority on the panel, as marred by partisanship. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) several weeks ago rejected the draft, saying it was “partisan by design” and that an inquiry “with a hardwired partisan slant would never be legitimate in the eyes of the American people.”
Pelosi has signaled some flexibility on the composition of the commission, but the vexing issue of scope remains.
Republicans want the commission either to focus narrowly on the Jan. 6 incident or to look at the issue more comprehensively, including probing other forms of political violence, like the unrest in the summer of 2020 during protests over police brutality.
Members of the GOP have been critical of what they say is a double standard by Democrats in downplaying riots as “peaceful protests” while playing up the Jan. 6 event as a “domestic terrorist attack” and an “insurrection.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), speaking at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, alleged that Democrats were exploiting the Jan. 6 incident and using security concerns as an excuse to paint a large part of the Republican base as dangerous.
“Let’s be clear, this is not about security at this point, this is about political theater,” Cruz said. “Half the country, the ‘deplorables,’ are dangerous, and [Democrats are] going to turn the Capitol into a military outpost in Baghdad just to have the compliant media echo that message,” he added, referring to the enhanced security measures around the Capitol, like barbed wire fencing.
Pelosi’s draft legislation calls for including “investigations into influencing factors” related to the Jan. 6 breach. One line of Republican objection is around demarcating the scope of the probe, arguing that Democrats would focus on issues selectively for political gain.
“If Congress is going to attempt some broader analysis of toxic political violence across this country,” McConnell said, “then in that case, we cannot have artificial cherry-picking of which terrible behavior does and does not deserve scrutiny.”
“We could do something narrow that looks at the Capitol, or we could potentially do something broader to analyze the full scope of the political violence problem in this country,” McConnell said, adding, “We cannot land at some artificial, politicized halfway point.”
In her interview on MSNBC, Pelosi said the spat over the scope is the key issue holding up the establishment of the commission.
“The disagreements that we’re having about having a bipartisan commission–and it must be bipartisan–is on the scope,” she said, pointing to Republican requests that, if the commission is to have a broad latitude, then they want it also to investigate the summer riots.
“They want to treat something like Black Lives Matter peaceful demonstrations in a similar manner as they would January 6th,” Pelosi said.
“We can pass a bill, but that’s not the point,” Pelosi told the outlet. “You want it to be bipartisan. And it cannot be bipartisan if the scope of it is to not draw any conclusion about what happened that day as the premise for how we would go forward and investigate it,” she added.
If Pelosi did move forward on a partisan basis, the legislation would likely meet opposition in the Senate, where 60 votes—including 10 Republicans—would be needed for passage.
Senate Republicans cast doubt that there was enough support for the commission.
“My instinct is that is not happening, that the idea that speaker floated was so much in contrast to the way we handled this on 9/11,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “I think the better way to do it right now would be for the committees to continue to work on it and try to come to quicker conclusions,” Blunt added, referring to committee-level probes of the Jan. 6 incident.
Blunt also said a commission could take too long to make findings that could improve security around the Capitol.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.