Partisan Haggling Dampens Urgent Calls for Jan. 6 Answers

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The urgent calls from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and lawmakers from both parties to establish a Sept. 11-style panel to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol are running up against partisan bickering over the scope of any probe.

Despite initial bipartisan resolve to get answers, disputes between Democrats and Republicans over the contours of the investigation and whether the commission should be evenly split by party have stymied progress toward its creation.

Part of the challenge is the political nature of the riot, in which supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol to prevent a joint session of Congress from certifying his November election loss. Even that night, after the attack, some Republican members of Congress continued their challenges of the election results.

Getting both parties to buy in to the investigation is essential for its success, according to Tom Kean, the Republican Chair of the former Sept. 11 commission. Lee Hamilton, the Democratic vice chair of the panel established in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attack on the U.S., said the commission’s members “have to be able to see things as they are and not as their partisan instincts would have them believe.”

“Bipartisanship is absolutely essential,” said Hamilton, who spoke with Kean at a virtual event Thursday organized by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center. “If you cannot get bipartisanship, the chances of implementation are slim to none.”

Members of the Sept. 11 commission have written to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Pelosi and other congressional leaders in support of a bipartisan, independent investigation to get answers that would be widely accepted by the American public.

House officials on both sides of the political aisle said there has been no progress in negotiations on establishing a commission. Pelosi on Wednesday refused to discuss the stalled legislative efforts to create a commission.

“I think that’s the epitome of where it’s at,” Illinois Representative Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the Committee on House Administration, said of Pelosi declining to discuss the issue.

Davis has proposed legislation to create a commission consisting five appointees by Republicans and five appointees from Democrats, to authorize hearings and to allow members from both parties to issue subpoenas, in line with the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Although Pelosi said a Jan. 6 panel should be modeled after the commission that probed the 2001 terrorist attacks and the security failures that preceded it -- the draft bill from House Democrats circulated last month differs in key ways from the panel 20 years ago.

The Democratic plan calls for an 11-seat commission that would give seven seats to Democratic appointees, including three from Biden. The other eight would be chosen by the top Senate and House Democratic and Republican leaders, giving the GOP just four appointments.

Evenly Divided

Kean said it’s “essential” that the commission’s appointments be evenly divided. At the same time, he said staffing and selection are important.

“One bad appointment can ruin the mix,” Kean said.

There are also disagreements in Congress over who on the Jan. 6 panel can wield subpoena power. Kean and Hamilton on Thursday said just the threat of issuing subpoenas helped their investigation.

In addition to Republican questions about the commission’s appointments, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month raised questions over Pelosi’s proposed scope of the panel’s work.

Pelosi told colleagues in a Feb. 15 letter that such a commission would investigate and report on causes “relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power, including facts and causes relating to the preparedness and response of the United States Capitol Police and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement in the National Capitol Region.”

McConnell, in a Feb. 24 floor speech, called the Democratic proposal “partisan,” and said “we cannot have artificial cherry-picking of which terrible behavior does and does not deserve scrutiny.”

Rather, McConnell said he instead would support a commission with a broader mandate to look not just at the Jan. 6 violence, but also at political violence across the country -- an apparent reference to demonstrations in the summer of 2020 that some Republicans blame on violent left-wing groups.

Even though partisan divisions have deepened in recent decades, there was also some initial disagreement over the creation of the Sept. 11 commission.

It was not until November 15, 2002 -- more than a year after the attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. -- that the Senate actually gave final congressional go-ahead to “The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.”

Kean said that the fact that the Sept. 11 commission did not get started until more than a year after the attack was, in some ways, an “advantage.” He said the commission was able to use information from other investigative efforts, including a House committee investigation, in putting together their report.

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