GOP May Face Some Defections As House Vote On January 6 Commission Bill Looms

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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May 19, 2021 10:48 a.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) last-minute denunciation of the bipartisan bill to set up a January 6 commission has left some members of his caucus unswayed. 

Tuesday night saw many GOP members still claiming to be undecided, along with quite a few — including almost all the Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump — planning to vote yes on the commission. The Problem Solvers Caucus, the group the bill’s GOP author Rep. John Katko (R-NY) belongs to, formally endorsed the legislation Tuesday. Punchbowl News estimated the number of the total defectors would range anywhere from 20 to 50 members. 

While this doesn’t matter logistically — the Democratic majority in the House made it very likely that this bill will pass Wednesday, no matter what the Republicans did — it’s embarrassing for McCarthy and a potential body blow to his speakership ambitions. And by extension, it raises questions about the extent of Trump’s power over the party. 

The former President blasted out a statement Tuesday night urging Republicans to oppose the commission.

“Republicans in the House and Senate should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission,” he wrote. “It is just more partisan unfairness and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately.” 

Pushing for an almost comic expansion of the commission’s scope, plus fretting that the commission’s investigatory work will interfere with ongoing Justice Department prosecutions are the cornerstones of McCarthy’s argument against the commission right now. Other Republicans are echoing those talking points, with varying degrees of conviction. 

“I mean I do want to have a commission, I think it would be good,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) told reporters Tuesday. “I just think we should be all-inclusive.”

On Tuesday, during a House Rules Committee hearing on the commission bill, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) advocated for an amendment to investigate the 2017 GOP congressional baseball practice shooting, which left Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) injured. 

“My colleague’s party was in charge at the time, one could have created a commission back then to look into it,” committee chair Jim McGovern (D-MA) rebutted, advocating for a narrower probe. “It also begs the question, what about the attack against Gabby Giffords?” 

The Democratic-majority committee voted down the amendment.

The Republican desire to broaden the commission’s scope is a fairly transparent attempt to shift the heat from Trump’s culpability in the January 6 attack, as well as many Republicans’ peddling of his election fraud conspiracy theories. 

House Homeland Security committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the lead author of the commission bill, said Wednesday morning that McCarthy’s opposition to the committee belies a darker fear of what it might uncover. 

“My humble opinion is that there’s some information that he would deem troubling for the Republican Party if it got out, and I think he will do everything possible to prevent that,” he said on MSNBC. 

McCarthy specifically had a phone call with Trump while the insurrection was in progress, which he has been reluctant to talk about. His opposition contributed to intra-party friction before, when Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-WY) support of a January 6 commission helped get the ball rolling on her ouster. 

Still, even if the commission does survive in the Senate and pass into existence, McCarthy may be able to avoid the hot seat, depending on the pliability of the Republican appointees. As the rules stand now, either the Democratic-appointed chair and Republican-appointed vice chair or a majority of the evenly split commission needs to approve of every subpoena. It would take the cooperation of at least one Republican commissioner to compel McCarthy to spill his secrets.

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