Lawmakers begin to develop legislative response to Capitol attack

National commission, security supplemental in the works as members push other proposals

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., pictured at a House Judiciary Committee markup in 2019, has introduced a bill to require Capitol Police to wear body cameras, one of several pieces of legislation designed to respond to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., pictured at a House Judiciary Committee markup in 2019, has introduced a bill to require Capitol Police to wear body cameras, one of several pieces of legislation designed to respond to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 25, 2021 at 5:00am

A comprehensive response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol could take months, if not years, to materialize after thorough investigations, but lawmakers have started offering legislative proposals that could be taken up relatively quickly.

The Democrat-led Congress is likely done with punitive measures for the foreseeable future after the House impeached and the Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection. Investigations may yield additional punishments for Trump or members of Congress alleged to have been involved, but Democrats plan to spend upcoming floor time on legislation that they hope will attract bipartisan support.

The proposal drawing the most attention is one to establish a commission to look into the insurrection, modeled after a bipartisan group that Congress appointed to investigate the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Congressional leaders are negotiating the details while also working with appropriators on security needs to be addressed in a supplemental funding bill.

Other seemingly commonsense proposals that members are pushing, like requiring Capitol Police officers to wear body cameras and amending government security clearance forms to require applicants to disclose whether they participated in the insurrection or have connections to groups that led it, could be folded into those measures or could move alongside them. 

Other legislative efforts are more reflective, like a proposal to establish Jan. 6 as a national day of remembrance.

The House could vote to establish the commission in March, but a partisan disagreement over its scope and structure has delayed a bill introduction and raised questions about the bipartisan path forward for any legislation responding to the attack.

In a discussion draft, Democrats proposed that their party get a majority of picks to the commission and their selected chair have unilateral subpoena power. Republicans want an equal number of picks and a requirement that all members vote on subpoenas.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that for the commission to work, “it really has to be strongly bipartisan.” But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that the way the speaker wants to structure the commission “is politically driven, and it seems like she’s setting up a system to fail.”

Democratic aides involved in negotiations say the real holdup is over the bill’s “whereas” language describing Congress’ findings and provisions describing the commission’s purpose. Those aides are dubious of Republicans’ intentions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in floor remarks Wednesday that Pelosi’s proposal sets up a broader review of domestic violent extremism. If lawmakers broaden the scope beyond the security failures on Jan. 6, they must look at all forms of political violence, including incidents led by left-leaning extremists, the Kentucky Republican said.

“We cannot have artificial cherry-picking of which terrible behavior does and does not deserve scrutiny,” McConnell said.

March ‘if they are ready’

Assuming leaders reach agreement on the commission, which is not certain, other legislation regarding the attack could move around the same time.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said votes on the commission bill and security supplemental — “they may be together or they may be separate” — could be scheduled before the House adjourns March 12 for scheduled committee workweeks and the Easter recess.

“I will bring them to the floor at that point in time if they are ready,” the Maryland Democrat said.

A Democratic leadership aide said that while the focus is on those measures, “members have a number of good ideas” on responding to the attack. “We will continue to discuss our response with the caucus and expect to bring additional legislation to the floor,” the aide said.

Before finalizing a security supplemental, leaders want to see what retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré recommends after his review of the Capitol security posture. Honoré is expected to provide his assessment in the next few weeks.

House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney of New York has introduced a bill to help investigators that could move with the commission bill. The measure would authorize law enforcement agencies investigating the Jan. 6 attack to require a company to disclose its beneficial ownership information if that information could be helpful to their investigation.

“As the events of January 6 were unfolding, I was reading the reports about the large rally and the hundreds of charter buses bringing thousands of people to the National Mall,” Maloney said in an email interview. “I’ve helped organize large events in the past ... and I know how time- and money-intensive those events can be. And it clicked for me as we watched the insurrection play out — if we are to get to bottom of what happen on January 6 — and how, we need to answer ‘who financed this?’”

Maloney had a bill enacted last year requiring companies to disclose beneficial owners when they are formed, but that will take years to implement, which is why she proposed this bill to help investigators now.

“Individuals with ties to the January 6 assault should not — and must not — be allowed to hide behind the veil of anonymity provided by shell companies,” she said.

Honoring and remembering

A measure guaranteed a House vote soon is one Pelosi introduced to award Congressional Gold Medals to law enforcement officers who fought back the rioters on Jan. 6. 

The California Democrat’s measure would create three Congressional Gold Medals: one each for the Capitol Police and the District’s Metropolitan Police Department to display at their respective headquarters, and one for the Smithsonian Institution to display with a plaque that lists the other law enforcement agencies that aided in protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6. Pelosi has 260 co-sponsors, including the top Republican leaders.

The House will eventually have to reconcile that bill with one the Senate adopted this month to award a single Gold Medal to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who led a group of rioters away from the Senate chamber. A Pelosi aide said the effort to reconcile the measures will be undertaken after the House votes on Pelosi’s version.

Another measure that could draw bipartisan support is a resolution from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi to express the sense of the House that “there should be established a National Day of Remembrance to remember the insurrection that occurred on January 6, 2021, at the United States Capitol.”

Krishnamoorthi told CQ Roll Call he’s working on building support and that votes on the commission and security supplemental bills would be an opportune time to advance it.

“It would be something that we should logically do because we will almost certainly commemorate this day in years to come,” the Illinois Democrat said.

A national day of remembrance would provide Congress and the country “a moment of reflection” to remember those who died and were injured while “reaffirming our fidelity to the Constitution, our form of government,” he said.

If the House votes on his resolution, it would likely serve as a precursor to a joint resolution that would need to pass both chambers and be signed by the president to establish an annual national day of remembrance, like Congress did in 1994 to designate Dec. 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

Body cameras and security clearances

Another bill the House might consider is from Rep. Greg Stanton to require that Capitol Police officers wear body cameras.

The Arizona Democrat told CQ Roll Call he’s long championed body cameras as protection for both the public and the police. Stanton instituted body cameras for Phoenix police when he was mayor, and he has also introduced legislation making federal grant funding for all law enforcement agencies conditional on use of body cameras.

While Capitol Police officers don’t have the same level of interaction with the public as local law enforcement, Jan. 6 “sadly showed us” their “need for body cameras isn’t obviated by that,” Stanton said.

“This is kind of a no-brainer at this point, and a best practice around the country,” he said.

Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial showed that most available video evidence of the attack is footage from rioters, journalists and lawmakers, as well as Capitol security footage that lacks sound.

“Imagine if we had body cam video how much better the legal process would be,” Stanton said.

The Capitol Police could also benefit from body camera footage in internal investigations. More than 30 officers are being investigated for potential misconduct on Jan. 6.

Stanton said he plans to discuss his bill with Rep. Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat who chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, because he thinks “the most logical vehicle” is the security supplemental.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, meanwhile, is using her expertise as a former Defense Department national security specialist to prevent insurrectionists from infiltrating the government. The Florida Democrat has a bill adding two new questions to the Standard Form 86 used for security clearance eligibility determinations that would ask if applicants participated in the Capitol riots or similar activities or are affiliated with groups that spread conspiracy theories about the government.

Murphy said she hopes to get her bill added to another vehicle, like the commission bill or annual intelligence reauthorization.

“I believe that a security clearance is a privilege, not a right,” she said. “It is the U.S. government trusting you with secrets that could harm national security.”

Applicants would not automatically be disqualified for disclosing they were at the Capitol on Jan. 6. While those who were present could lie on the security clearance application, they would be penalized if investigators conducting the background check found out the truth.

“Lying on the SF-86 form is also a reason for disqualification,” Murphy said. “So it’s important that we ask it as a specific question.”