GOP Spurns Jan. 6 Riot Probe as Trump Looms Over 2022 Election
(Bloomberg) -- Republican leaders’ rejection of a Democratic plan to independently probe the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection highlights the grip former President Donald Trump has on the GOP as well as the risk that his polarizing presence could cloud the party’s political prospects.
Legislation to establish the bipartisan panel passed the Democratic-controlled House Wednesday on a 252-175 vote, with 35 GOP lawmakers breaking with Trump and their leadership. But chances for passage in the Senate dimmed earlier in the day when Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition.
McConnell joined his House counterpart, Kevin McCarthy, in citing the existing law enforcement and congressional investigations into the Jan. 6 riot, making a separate inquiry unnecessary. McCarthy on Tuesday said an inquiry should also look at other “political violence,” referring to unrest in some cities amid protests against racial injustice and police brutality last summer.
Neither mentioned Trump, who called the commission a “Democrat trap” and urged Republicans to “get much tougher and much smarter.”
“Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!” he concluded in a statement Tuesday night.
There also is the political overhang from the assault on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters and the former president’s persistent and false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, which has already deeply divided the GOP. While many Republican voters are sticking with Trump, those that are turned off could be decisive in close races in next year’s midterm elections, where control of the House and Senate will be at stake.
That has raised concerns among some Republicans that the commission would create additional political peril. The House legislation establishing the 10-member panel requires a final report by Dec. 31, of this year, almost guaranteeing that it would resonate into 2022.
Representative Dan Bishop, a North Carolina Republican, called the proposal to create the commission itself “one more partisan attack.”
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who is undecided on the commission, said he considered the Dec. 31 deadline in the bill “aspirational” and that it was likely to get extended into the election year.
“That would be the Democrats’ dream,” he said. “I generally don’t try to help Democrats.”
John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he wants the GOP 2022 midterm message to be focused on jobs, wages, strong borders and defense “and not re-litigating the 2020 election.”
“Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election I think is a day lost on being able to draw contrasts between us and Democrats’ very radical, left-wing agenda,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to bring the commission legislation to a vote in the chamber, but he would need at least 10 Republicans to cross McConnell to move it forward. He accused the GOP leaders of “caving to Donald Trump and proving that the Republican Party is still drunk off the big lie.”
The fact that 35 House Republicans voted in favor of the commission illustrated the party’s divisions over Trump and his legacy.
John Katko of New York, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the insurrection and co-sponsored the bill, called the legislation setting up the commission “fair and necessary.” He encouraged Republicans and Democrats alike, to “put down their swords for once, just for once.”
Representative Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican who also voted to impeach Trump warned that “there has been an active effort to whitewash and rewrite the shameful events of that day to avoid accountability and turn away from difficult truths.”
The commission vote follows last week’s ouster of outspoken Trump critic Liz Cheney from her post in Republican leadership.
Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was removed – and replaced by Trump loyalist Elise Stefanik of New York – as she spoke out against Trump’s repeated false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
Cheney said on ABC’s “This Week” program that McCarthy should testify before the commission. McCarthy had spoken to Trump by telephone during the riot, and Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State cited that conversation in support of the former president’s impeachment. She said McCarthy recounted Trump as telling him that the rioters “are more upset about the election than you are.”
Both Cheney and Herrera Beutler voted for the commission.
In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 violence, McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for the insurrection. But he has since reversed course and aligned himself closely with the former president. McConnell has also been sharply critical of the former president, though more recently he has avoided talking about Trump.
The rationale given Republican lawmakers for opposing the commission aligns with the views of their voters.
Trump was blamed for the violence at the Capitol by 45% of Americans in a national poll conducted last month by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Boston television station WCVB. But the survey revealed a wide partisan gap. While 79% of Democrats held Trump responsible, Republicans were more likely to blame the Democratic Party or the leftist Antifa movement.
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