House Approves Commission to Investigate Jan. 6 Insurrection

The bill has already been rejected by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who announced Wednesday he wouldn’t support the bill on the Senate floor.

In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, U.S. Capitol Police push back rioters trying to enter the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House narrowly passed legislation Wednesday that would create a bipartisan congressional commission to study what happened on Jan. 6 and investigate security flaws that led to only the second storming of the U.S. Capitol in American history.

The final tally was 252-175 with 35 Republicans joining all Democrats to pass the legislation.

While initially a bipartisan affair, the legislation quickly garnered pushback from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy who said the commission was duplicative — saying Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s framework didn’t allow for members to examine other forms of political violence.

New York Republican John Katko — one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in the insurrection — hammered out a deal for the commission last week alongside Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson.

The legislation faced an uphill battle on Tuesday however, when Republicans presented the commission before the House Rules committee — Katko explaining the commission was about investigating security flaws, not political considerations. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who serves as that committee’s ranking member, suggested Congress was moving too quickly to investigate the event.

Republicans have lacked consensus in recent weeks. The House’s Republican Caucus voted to oust Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney after she voiced opposition to Trump’s assertion the 2020 election had been fraudulent. Cheney suggested McCarthy be subpoenaed by an eventual Jan. 6 commission, based on his alleged conversation with Trump that day.

Despite opposition and party infighting across the aisle, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation would receive a Senate vote. He criticized Republicans for doing an about face on the legislation after negotiating for fair parameters and membership — adding the party was caving to Trump and beholden to the big lie the 2020 election was stolen.

“An independent commission can be the antidote to the poisonous mistruths that continue to spread about January 6,” Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled his opposition to the “slanted” and “unbalanced” commission Wednesday, saying examination of the attack was already going on in various congressional committees.

“So, there is, has been and there will continue to be no shortage of robust investigation by two separate branches of the federal government,” McConnell said. “So, Mr. President it’s not clear what new facts or additional information what yet another commission could actually law on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress.”

House debate Wednesday on the legislation was not particularly contentious. Although Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole lamented Republican inability to offer amendments or input into the legislation, he also commended Katko and Thompson’s bipartisan effort to form the legislation.

Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern agreed with Cole about the pair’s involvement in drafting bipartisan legislation.

“They negotiated a truly bipartisan deal,” McGovern said. “I’ve taken note of the letter that Minority Leader McCarthy sent to Speaker Pelosi of all the things that he wanted in this deal, he got virtually every one of them, all in this bipartisan deal. And now all of a sudden it’s not good enough.”

He added: “Don’t talk about bipartisanship and then when you get it, you turn your back on it.”

New York Democrat Adriano Espaillat said Wednesday protecting the Capitol and securing American democracy wasn’t a partisan issue — however Republicans had turned the issue into a sideshow or a circus.

“I submit to you that the attempted murder of the vice president, that the attempted murder of our speaker, the attempted murder of any one of us is not a sideshow or circus,” he said. “It is a real threat to everyone across this great land.”

Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill — a New Jersey Democrat who said some members gave tours of the U.S. Capitol before the Jan. 6 attack — said Americans must understand exactly what happened.

“We need this commission because on January 6 I was lying on the floor to avoid possible shooters in this very chamber, holding a gas mask in one hand and a phone in the other as I called my husband in case I didn’t make it home,” she said. “We need this commission because despite our own experiences, despite video footage, despite testimony by police it has been suggested that this was simply a normal tourist event.”

Katko was unwavering in his characterization of the commission as bipartisan during debate on the bill Wednesday. The security breach that had taken place Jan. 6 was a major breakdown in information sharing and preparedness, he said, much like the shortfalls to air security during the 9/11 attacks.

The American people and the U.S. Capitol Police deserve answers, which is why the commission also imposed a six-month deadline to report its findings, Katko noted.

“The American people expect Congress to put partisanship aside for the sake of our homeland security,” Katko said. “I fully recognize that in a diverse body like this, members come down on different sides on different issues. I welcome that, we all should, that’s America.”

He added: “At the end of the day, I strongly believe this is a fair and necessary legislation and I encourage all members, Republicans and Democrats alike, to put down their swords for once — just for once — and support this bill.”

Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican, also spoke in support of the bill, saying the imperative to have a fact-based commission to ferret out Jan. 6 facts wasn’t a partisan issue. A violent mob disrupting the lawful transition of power with the encouragement from prominent elected officials was “a chilling reminder of President Reagan’s warning that ‘freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.’”

“Unfortunately, many who rightly criticized and condemned the attack that day have walked back their words or softened their speech, but even more troubling there’s been an active effort to whitewash and rewrite the shameful events of that day, to avoid accountability and turn away from difficult truths,” Meijer said. “If we avoid confronting what happened here just a few short months ago, we can be sure that intimidation, coercion and violence will become a defining feature of our politics.”

Meanwhile, as lawmakers voted in the House, the Committee on House Administration convened to discuss reforms necessary to improve the capacity of U.S. Capitol Police to protect lawmakers, the complex itself and myriad staff, aides and reporters who work inside.

The primary call issued Wednesday was to morph the Capitol Police force into a specialized protective unit instead of its traditional police role. The drumbeat for this has been steadily building for weeks. 

The Capitol Police force’s inspector general Michael Bolton has told lawmakers repeatedly that intelligence and security failures leading up to and during the siege would have likely been less damaging if the force operated under expanded authority.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson was invited to attend Wednesday’s hearing but declined. Gibson did not return a request for comment. House Sergeant at Arms Major General William Walker, however, appeared to offer his insights.

Walker, who came to the job after the insurrection, wants to install a new police chief and ideally, someone who has a security, law enforcement and first responder background.

“It is a hybrid position. The next chief of police has to be more than a police professional but an expert in a lot of things,” he said, noting that private protection experience with executives is necessary, too.

Even finding this candidate means the Capitol Police would likely need to abandon their traditional police department formation in favor of a federal protective agency role.

Lt. General Jeffrey Buchanan, who served as deputy leader for the Capitol Attack Review Task Force also called for a culture change among Capitol Police whose current daily responsibilities are wide ranging.

“Force protection has to underlie everything we do. If our officers are busting teenagers for smoking marijuana over at the train station, I know that’s against the law, but if that doesn’t have anything to do with protecting the Capitol or its members, it’s probably wasted time and energy and so it requires a cultural change that has to start at the top, but more important, has to be driven by our actions every day,” Buchanan said.

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