In the days before January 6, Trump demanded that Republicans in Congress reject the results of the Electoral College and install him for a second term. 147 Republicans complied. On the day of the vote, a mob incited by Trump — and the lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential election — attacked the United States Capitol.
On Tuesday, Trump demanded that Republicans in Congress oppose the creation of a bipartisan Commission to investigate the events of January 6.
Republicans in the House and Senate should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission. It is just more partisan unfairness… Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left. Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were listening. Both have announced their opposition to the creation of a January 6 Commission.
McCarthy's opposition is particularly notable because it comes after Democrats gave him everything he said he wanted. In a February 22 letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), McCarthy said that he was "in agreement" with Pelosi that "the best path forward" is "to create an impartial and bipartisan Commission" to investigate January 6.
In the letter, McCarthy lists three things he would need to support the commission:
1. An equal 5-5 ratio in appointments by Democrats and Republicans
2. Co-Equal Subpoena Power for the Chair and the Vice Chair of the Commission
3. No inclusion of findings or other predetermined conclusions which should ultimately be rendered by the Commission itself.
The first two requirements are the most significant. It means the Commission would not be able to do anything, including issue subpoenas, without the agreement of Republican appointees. The initial proposal would have given Democrats a 7-4 advantage and allowed the Democratic chair to unilaterally issue subpoenas.
McCarthy appointed Congressman John Katko (R-NY) to negotiate the final deal on behalf of Republicans.
Should Republicans, who helped set the stage for the January 6 attack by validating Trump's lies about the election, get veto power over the actions of the Commission? It doesn't seem like a great idea. But the Democrats ended up giving McCarthy exactly what he wanted.
On May 14, Katko and his Democratic counterpart, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) announced a "bipartisan agreement" to create the Commission. The legislation provided there would be five Republicans and five Democrats. Subpoenas could only be issued upon the agreement of the top Republican and Democrat on the Commission. The legislative text is very straightforward and does not include "findings or other predetermined conclusions."
But on Tuesday, McCarthy announced his opposition:
Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation.
The failure to "examine interrelated forms of political violence" was not mentioned in McCarthy's February letter but was also emphasized by Trump. Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), provided more specificity in his message to other House Republicans urging them to oppose the Commission. Scalise says the problem with the January 6 Commission is that it would "only investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021." Trump said any Commission should also study "murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York." Scalise mentioned "the June 2017 shooting at the Republican Congressional baseball practice," where he was injured.
None of these events, of course, has any apparent connection to January 6.
Despite McCarthy's opposition, the legislation establishing the commission passed the House on Wednesday with 34 House Republicans voting in favor. It faces a tougher path in the Senate.
McCarthy is a key witness
McCarthy is also an important witness to any legitimate inquiry into the events of January 6.
A key part of the Commission inquiry will be what role Trump played in fomenting the violence. McCarthy was in contact with Trump on January 6. McCarthy reportedly asked Trump to put out a statement calling for an end to the violence. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) says that McCarthy told her that Trump responded by saying, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
This is how McCarthy described Trump's culpability on January 13:
The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump to accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term
McCarthy opposed Trump's impeachment but supported a censure resolution against the President.
In April, however, McCarthy reversed course and suggested on Fox News that Trump had acted responsibly to quell the violence:
I was the first person to contact him when the riots were going on. He didn’t see it. [How] he ended the call was saying — telling me, he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.
First, the idea that Trump, a cable TV addict, was not acutely aware of the riot taking place at the Capitol is not credible. But more importantly, Trump didn't release a video until hours later and, in the video, he told the rioters he loved them and they were "very special."
Still, it's clear that McCarthy is no longer comfortable criticizing Trump's actions. Testifying before a January 6 Commission could force McCarthy to accurately describe what Trump told him that day.
McConnell's political calculation
On Tuesday, McConnell said he was "undecided" about the House proposal for a January 6 Commission. But, after Trump spoke, McConnell quickly decided he was opposed to the idea.
McConnell effectively said the entire idea of Congress trying to figure out exactly what happened on January 6 was pointless. "It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could lay on top of the existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress," McConnell said.
But McConnell offered more of a conclusion than an explanation. One of his top deputies, Senator John Thune (R-SD), was more forthright. A January 6 Commission was bad politics for Republicans. "I want our midterm message to be about the kinds of issues the American people are dealing with. Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast," Thune said.
McConnell could block the formation of the Commission if he is able to convince 41 Republican Senators to join a filibuster of the legislation.