House Republican leaders made clear Tuesday they are united in opposition to bipartisan legislation to create a commission to study the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, but fractures within their own party show the politically precarious nature of the vote and the divisions former President Donald Trump still sows.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., capped a day of GOP messaging on the bill Tuesday saying leaders recommend members vote “no” but are stopping short of conducting a formal whip count, a move that typically means leadership is encouraging the rank and file to vote their conscience.
But Scalise’s office also sent out an email to all Republican legislative directors suggesting leaders are indeed monitoring how caucus members plan to vote.
“IMPORTANT: If your boss intends to vote in favor of the bill, it is imperative that you contact the Whip Floor Team by email,” the email read.
The legislation, which the House will vote on Wednesday after one hour of debate, is the product of a compromise between the two leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson and New York Republican John Katko.
“When those individuals attacked the Capitol, they came for the vice president, who was a Republican; they came for the speaker, who is a Democrat,” Thompson said, noting that rioters didn’t ask about party affiliation. “They came for what we represent as a nation, and that’s what we have to defend by having this commission front and center in providing advice and counsel.”
Scalise and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have said the bill is too narrow in scope for Republicans who want to investigate other political violence, such as the 2017 shooting at a GOP congressional baseball practice in which Scalise was gravely wounded.
Scalise in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call lamented that the bill didn’t address the baseball shooting or the April 2 attack that killed a Capitol Police officer.
“I wanted to see it more broad, and obviously John Katko worked hard to try to improve on what Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi had put together,” Scalise said.
When asked about the fact that Katko and Thompson hammered out the deal — one in which Katko acknowledged Thompson made concessions — Scalise said it wasn’t enough to get him onboard.
“He’s worked hard to try to advance it,” the Louisiana Republican said of Katko. “But clearly there were other things that our members wanted included that Speaker Pelosi rejected.”
But the commission, Katko said, could actually have the flexibility to include components outside the Jan. 6 attack. “How much that commission will exercise that flexibility, that depends on the commissioners,” he said.
The bill has the support of congressional Democrats and the White House and is expected to pass the House easily, a fact that Katko acknowledged in praising Thompson for reaching across the aisle.
“He’s in the majority, and I give him even more credit because he didn’t have to bend if he didn’t want to, but he did,” the New York Republican said.
Katko said he respects the dissent from colleagues in his conference and that he hopes there will be “a considerable amount” of GOP support.
The legislation would establish a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, with similar parameters as the 9/11 commission. It would create a 10-person bipartisan panel appointed by congressional leaders in both parties.
McCarthy has asserted that Democrats refused to negotiate in good faith, that the bill would interfere with prosecutorial efforts and that committees of jurisdiction are already investigating.
“Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” he said in a statement.
Pelosi countered that Democrats had repeatedly tried to work with McCarthy.
“In his February 22 letter, he made three requests to be addressed in Democrats’ discussion draft. Every single one was granted by Democrats, yet he still says no,” she said in a statement. “The American people expect and deserve the truth about what happened on January 6th in a manner that strengthens our Democracy and ensures that January 6th never happens again.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer expressed sympathy for his fellow New Yorker, Katko.
“It shows how hard it is to negotiate with Republicans. If the Republican leaders are just going to throw their lead negotiators under the bus, why do they even participate in negotiations at all?” Schumer said Tuesday after the Senate party lunches.
Schumer said the legislation would get a vote on the Senate floor. “I want to be clear, I will put the January 6 Commission legislation on the floor of the Senate for a vote. Period. Republicans can let their constituents know: Are they on the side of truth, or do they want to cover up for the insurrectionists and for Donald Trump?” he said.
If enacted, the commission would investigate the facts and circumstances around the insurrection by a pro-Trump mob and factors that might have incited the attack. Those working in government would not be allowed to serve, and potential commissioners would be required to have expertise in law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence and cybersecurity.
The White House made known its support on Tuesday morning.
“The attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on our democracy, an effort to undo the will of the American people and threaten the peaceful transition of power,” it said in a Statement of Administration Policy.
The Jan. 6 panel would have subpoena power, and how that would be used would require agreement between the chair and vice chair or a majority vote of the commission, similar to the 9/11 commission. The commission would have to issue a final report by Dec. 31, 2021, with findings on the facts and causes of the attack and recommendations to prevent future attacks.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said McCarthy got much of what he wanted in the agreement on the commission, including an equal number of commissioners appointed from each side and subpoena power that would be shared and not unilaterally issued.
“For Minority Leader McCarthy to oppose it because he wants to look at, as a number of the people who think that this was a tourist visit to the Capitol of the United States do, … antifa, Black Lives Matter, and perhaps other groups that they don’t like,” Hoyer told reporters.
The “tourist visit” reference harks back to statements by Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who despite helping barricade the House chamber on Jan. 6 from the insurgents, has since tried to cast doubt on the nature of the attack on Congress.
“That’s not what this commission is about and many, many Republicans have talked to me and believe it ought to be focused on Jan. 6,” Hoyer said.
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.