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Democrats mull ‘go-it-alone’ approach on Capitol security measures

More bipartisan support seen for supplemental spending bill, but GOP not yet sold on price tag, details

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., the top Republican  appropriator on Legislative Branch spending, has questions about $2B supplemental price tag.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., the top Republican appropriator on Legislative Branch spending, has questions about $2B supplemental price tag. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats may vote next week on one or two bills responding to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol with or without Republican support, Democratic leaders said after a caucus meeting Wednesday.

Republicans have yet to agree to either bill: One would establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection, and the other would provide supplemental spending for security around the Capitol.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded dour about getting Republican support for the bills in a statement Wednesday after House Republicans voted to remove Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as GOP Conference chair.

“The Republican denial of the truth presented by Congresswoman Cheney is reflected in their denial of the need to seek the truth in a January 6th commission and to repair the damage of January 6th with a security supplemental immediately,” the California Democrat said.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., briefed the full Democratic Caucus Wednesday on the security supplemental. That followed a briefing “a few weeks ago” for appropriators, Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar told reporters, deferring to DeLauro on details. 

The supplemental still under negotiation is to cost between $2 billion and $2.1 billion, according to a Democratic source who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

“I’ll let the majority leader speak to the calendar, but it’s our feeling that next week we’ll have a vote on the security supplemental,” Aguilar said. 

After the news conference, Aguilar, D-Calif., said the measure has not been finalized and conversations are ongoing about matters that span multiple committee jurisdictions. Areas of discussion include providing the Justice Department more money to prosecute insurrectionists, and Defense Department matters like the role of the National Guard in protecting the Capitol. 

Republicans “are going to have to make a tough choice, and they’re gonna have to decide whether they want to support hardening this facility and giving us the resources to protect it and whether they agree to a bipartisan commission that they advocated for,” Aguilar said. He predicted votes on both bills next week, likely on two separate days. 

Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries also said the commission bill could get a vote next week. 

“Hopefully we’ll pass that commission with Republican votes since we’ve yielded on issues that they have raised, but it remains to be seen and we’ll see what occurs next week,” the New York Democrat said.

But a senior Democratic aide cautioned that the commission bill may not move without Republican support. 

During a Democratic leadership meeting Tuesday night, the group discussed moving the security supplemental with or without Republicans but not the Jan. 6 commission, which has to be bipartisan to function, according to the aide. The focus at the moment is getting a bipartisan agreement, although the thinking on that could change, the aide said. 

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer had expressed frustration earlier Tuesday that neither bill had passed four months after Jan. 6.

“So there’s some, from my perspective, need to accelerate the consideration of these bills,” the Maryland Democrat said on a press call. “I’m hopeful that we could do it in a bipartisan fashion.”

There are only a few matters on the security supplemental where the parties have differing views, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the top Republican on the Legislative Branch appropriations subcommittee, said Wednesday morning. She pointed out she had just received a draft of the bill.

“There are still a few issues outstanding. But it sounds like we’re getting pretty close,” she said. “I think the number I saw was about $2 billion, which is significant. I need to know that that $2 billion is going to significantly improve our security. I literally just said that’s too much of a top line and I need to know more.”

Commission doubts

The parties may have more difficulty reaching agreement on the bipartisan commission, which has been stalled for months in large part over a dispute about scope.

Democrats want to limit the panel’s investigative authority to matters directly related to the Jan. 6 insurrection while Republicans want to have a broader scope looking at other political violence at events like Black Lives Matter protests. 

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and ranking member John Katko, R-N.Y., have been negotiating in hopes of breaking the impasse and reaching a bipartisan agreement. 

Jeffries said Democrats have addressed the other two concerns Republicans raised about an initial draft of the bill on the makeup and subpoena power of commissioners. 

Democrats agreed that each party can appoint five members of the commission, providing for the equal split Republicans demanded. They’ve also agreed to give both the Democratic chair and Republican vice chair of the commission subpoena authority. 

“Though this is somewhat unprecedented in the broader context of congressional inquiries, we’ve agreed that both the chair and the vice chair would have subpoena authority, even though there’s reason to believe that some Republican-appointed commissioners will be abusive of that authority,” Jeffries said. 

Jeffries said Republicans’ ousting Cheney in service of continuing to perpetrate the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump does not provide them with confidence that Republicans can operate in good faith. He said the hangup over scope has yet to be resolved. 

“The American people are with us,” Jeffries said. “They believe that you should have a serious sober substantive commission related to Jan. 6.” 

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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