House Votes to Create Panel to Probe Jan. 6 Capitol Breach

capitol riot commission
Rioters storm the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

The House voted Wednesday to create an independent commission on the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, sending the legislation to an uncertain future in the Senate as Republicans increasingly line up against the investigation and align themselves with former President Donald Trump.

Democrats say an independent investigation is crucial to reckoning what happened that day, when a violent mob of Trump’s supporters smashed into the Capitol to try and overturn President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Modeled after the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the legislation would establish an independent, 10-member commission that would make recommendations by the end of the year for securing the Capitol and preventing another breach. It passed the House 252-175.

But top Republicans in Congress are working to stop it. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday morning that he will oppose the legislation, joining with House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who came out against it Tuesday. Both men argued the bill was partisan, even though membership of the proposed commission would be evenly split between the parties.

“This is about facts — it’s not partisan politics,” said New York Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee who negotiated the legislation with Democrats. He said “the American people and the Capitol Police deserve answers, and action as soon as possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said that Jan. 6 “is going to haunt this institution for a long, long time” and that a commission is necessary to find the truth about what happened. He recalled that he “heard the shouts, saw the flash-bangs, smelled the gas on that sorry day.”

Democrats grew angry as some Republicans suggested the commission was only intended to smear Trump. Several shared their own memories of the insurrection, when rioters beat police, broke in through windows and doors and sent lawmakers running. Four of the rioters died, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber. A Capitol Police officer collapsed and died after engaging with the protesters, and two officers took their own lives in the days after.

“We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship? What else has to happen in this country?” shouted Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, on the floor just before the vote. He said the GOP opposition is “a slap in the face to every rank-and-file cop in the United States.”

The vote was yet another test of Republican loyalty to Trump, whose grip on the party remains strong despite his election defeat. House Republicans booted Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership last week for her criticism of Trump’s claims of electoral fraud, installing a Trump loyalist in her place. Cheney, in turn, suggested to ABC News that a commission could subpoena McCarthy because he spoke to Trump during the riot.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called McCarthy’s opposition to the commission “cowardice.” She released a February letter from the GOP leader in which he asked for an even split of Democrats and Republican commissioners, equal subpoena power and no predetermined findings or conclusions. The bipartisan legislation accommodates all three of those requests, she said.

“Leader McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer,” she said.

In the Senate, McConnell’s announcement dimmed the prospects for passage. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed to force a vote on the bill, charging that Republicans are “caving” to Trump.

Reporting by AP.