The House voted 252-175 Wednesday to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, garnering minimal Republican support in what is a bleak harbinger for the measure’s chances in the evenly divided Senate.
Just hours before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposed the bill, calling the measure “a slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January the sixth.”
The Kentucky Republican’s opposition, while not surprising, will make it difficult for Senate Democrats to get the 60 votes needed to move the bill along in that chamber.
But the House vote, in which 35 Republicans voted with Democrats and against their party leadership, was another public sign of bitter fractures within the GOP over former President Donald Trump.
All 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January for inciting the Capitol insurrection, including Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, who was ousted as GOP Conference chair by the party last week, voted to support the commission.
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of those 10 Republicans who has also blasted GOP leaders for removing Cheney, called the commission “the right thing to do.”
“We need answers,” he said.
Asked what he thinks of Republican leadership’s opposition to the commission, Kinzinger said, “I think it’s nuts.”
House GOP leadership on Tuesday recommended a “no” vote on the commission legislation, a bipartisan compromise between Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and ranking member John Katko, R-N.Y.
Katko, who worked in federal law enforcement for 20 years, said just prior to the vote that he and Thompson modeled their bill on the 9/11 commission, which he said made the country “infinitely safer” following the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.
“I ask my colleagues to consider the fact that this commission is built to work, and it will be depoliticized, and it will get the results we need,” Katko added.
Thompson told reporters Wednesday that the Homeland Security panel kept both Republican and Democratic leadership informed since the beginning of negotiations and made suggested changes to the bill.
Still, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy argued that the scope was too narrow and that it would duplicate other ongoing congressional investigations.
Kinzinger said Katko was able to negotiate a fairer deal, and Republican leadership “moved the goal post.”
“You’ll have to ask Trump why anything happens nowadays in the party,” Kinzinger added.
Thompson alluded to the same.
“It’s unfortunate that the minority leader has, at the last moment, raised issues that basically we had gone past, and there was no issue on his part,” the Mississippi Democrat said. “But I guess that’s politics.”
Many Republicans wanted the commission to specifically examine political violence outside the Jan. 6 riot, such as the 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice that targeted Republican lawmakers and civil unrest that occurred last summer, including the roles of Black Lives Matter and antifa.
But the commissioners, Katko has said, would have the discretion to investigate incidents outside the Jan. 6 attack.
Supporters say the bipartisan, independent commission would provide an official accounting of what led to and occurred on Jan. 6, including what factors may have incited the riot.
Congressional leaders in both parties would appoint 10 commissioners, and those working in government would not be allowed to serve. Commissioners, according to the bill, should have expertise in at least two areas of the following: law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, the armed forces, law, counterterrorism and cybersecurity.
The Jan. 6 panel would have subpoena power, and the use of it 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.
The leaders of the 9/11 commission — former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican who served as the chairman, and former Indiana Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, the vice chairman — issued a joint statement calling for lawmakers to vote to establish the Jan. 6 panel.
“Today, democracy faces a new threat. The January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol was one of the darkest days in our history. Americans deserve an objective and accurate account of what happened,” they said. “As we did in the wake of September 11, it is time to set aside partisan politics and come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice.”
Days after the insurrection, Howard Liebengood, a Capitol Police officer, died by suicide. His family issued a statement underscoring the need for a commission to investigate the Capitol attack.
“We believe a thorough, non-partisan investigation into the root causes of and the response to the January 6th riot is essential for our nation to move forward. Howie’s death was an immediate outgrowth of those events,” the Liebengood family said.
Katherine Tully-McManus and Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.