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Commission Studying Jan. 6 Insurrection Still a Hard Sell for Some

A bill forming a commission to formally investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol that left five dead may clear the House of Representatives soon.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Over the vociferous objection of House of Representatives GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and others, lawmakers appeared ready Tuesday to pass legislation that will stand up an investigatory body to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

H.R. 3233, establishing a national commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Complex, was proposed last week by Democrat Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Republican Representative John Katko of New York — one of only 10 Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in the siege that left five people dead.

Facing an uphill battle from the start, however, Thompson and Katko’s bill has led some Republicans to say that any commission would be a redundancy considering the numerous hearings being held in both the House and Senate probing security and intelligence failures on the day of the attack.

Just about a dozen Republicans are expected to align with Democrats in the House when the bill finally comes to the floor, but it should be enough to secure passage with a unified Democratic front. Beyond redundancies, Republicans have also complained that the commission is too narrow in scope because it fails to consider broader security threats posed to elected officials.

The House Rules Committee, responsible for debating a bill before it is finalized, convened Tuesday to assess the legislation and its accompanying amendments, one of which proposed expanding the scope of the commission to investigate a 2017 attack on Republican lawmakers at congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

Then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican of Louisiana, was shot along with four others — recovering after a bullet to the hip — while the gunman, James Hodgkinson, died from injuries after a firefight with police on the scene. FBI investigators would later dub the attack as "suicide by cop." During a House Intelligence Committee hearing in April, the agency said Hodgkinson was motivated by several factors but the incident was not one of domestic terrorism.

This quickly set off calls from Scalise for a new probe into the shooting. Republicans who attempted to couple the Jan. 6 commission bill with an amendment fulfilling Scalise’s request saw their hopes quickly dashed Tuesday afternoon.

“What we are looking at — more important than anything — is how did this happen?” Katko said as he rejected calls to dilute the bill from its intended focus. “How did we fail to act on the intelligence already there? How did we put these police officers in an unwinnable situation? That’s the real nub of this; it’s not a political consideration.”

Among those unconvinced, Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma warned Tuesday at a hearing of the House Rules Committee that Congress might be moving too fast on its own. Four months have passed since the insurrection at the Capitol, and roughly 500 individuals have been arrested in connection to the siege.

Cole, who is the committee's ranking Republican, noted it took 14 months to establish the 9/11 Commission from the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This lapse allowed criminal investigations to continue uninterrupted, he argued.

But Katko underlined to his fellow Republicans that they were not grasping the meaning or function of the commission. It would have nothing to do with criminal investigations, he said, but precisely what the failures were on January 6.

As for suggestions that Democrats are looking to form the commission only to use it as a cudgel against the GOP during the 2022 midterms, Representative Thompson highlighted the Dec. 31 deadline that the bill gives for a final report, putting a considerable amount of time between publication and the elections.

Lawmakers also shot down another amendment requesting cost analysis to supply the U.S. Capitol Police with take-home vehicles secured and equipped with sirens, weapons and lights. This amendment was intended for a separate but related bill reviewed by the committee, Representative Rosa DeLauro’s H.R. 3237 or the Emergency Security Supplemental to Respond to January 6th Appropriations Act, 2021. The Connecticut Democrat’s bill proposes vesting some $1.9 billion into U.S. Capitol security and establishing a “quick reaction task force” that would be overseen by the D.C. National Guard, not Congress.

Republicans have been mostly apprehensive about the task force given that dynamic, and it is expected to become a wedge issued during floor debate ahead of the vote.

The White House has thrown its weight behind both of the bills but is mum about the reaction force. From the pool of nearly $2 billion, about $530 million would go just toward enhancing security on Capitol grounds, i.e. fencing and a retractable security system. Another $520 million would go toward paying the National Guard for protecting the Capitol from the day of the attack to May 23. Other funds would go toward D.C.’s emergency planning pool, body cameras, police training and equipment, and resources for federal judges and courts.

Even if the House passes both bills, there may be dogfight waiting in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he was willing to hear debate on whether the commission was necessary. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to bring it to the floor when it comes there.  

“Unless we have a shared understanding and a shared truth of what happened that day, then this aim for unity and the trust necessary to participate in bipartisan legislation simply just isn’t going to occur as long as we have a substantial portion of the electorate, or even this body, denying the truth of what happened or would silence those who speak the truth,” Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat for Pennsylvania, said Tuesday.

GOP Leader McCarthy — who voted against impeaching Trump twice and is considered a loyalist to the former president — said Tuesday he rejected the commission legislation because it failed to consider “interrelated forms of political violence in America.”

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