The Jan. 6 Committee Is Politically Terrible For Republicans — And They Did It To Themselves

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during his weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)
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July 2, 2021 5:05 p.m.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) was prescient. 

Back in May, while explaining his rationale for voting in favor of the independent January 6 commission, he expressed concern that the alternative would be far worse for his party.

“The legislation I voted for ensured Republicans had equal power over the commission and set a deadline of December 31, 2021 to prevent a needlessly drawn-out process,” he said in a statement. 

“Without this commission, there will still be an investigation,” he added. “But it will be a House select-committee set up by Speaker Pelosi – the nature of which will be entirely dictated by Democrats and would stretch on for years.”

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While the duration of the select committee is yet to be seen, he was mostly right on the money. 

By rejecting the independent commission — a move led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — Republicans tossed away their best chance to exert some control over the course of the investigation. 

In the independent commission model, Republican cooperation was required to issue subpoenas. GOP appointees would have had a built-in ability to block anyone their Democratic counterparts wanted to call, from McCarthy to former President Donald Trump. The select committee gives Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Pelosi’s appointed chair, unilateral subpoena power. 

The legislation standing up the independent commission mandated that the final report be issued no later than the last day of 2021. Even at the time, some Republicans fretted that the investigation would cross that deadline and color the 2022 midterm campaign season, reminding voters of the role their party played as they decided who to vote for. 

Now, that fear is much more likely to come true — there is no hard end date for the select committee, meaning that the majority-Democratic appointees can take as much time as they want. 

The makeup of the select committee presents yet another problem for Republicans that the independent commission would have avoided. It will be populated by lawmakers, not outside experts. Pelosi has already selected her eight picks; the resolution mandates that she “consult” with McCarthy about the other five, though he’s staying mum for now on whether he’ll pick anyone at all, let alone who he’ll select. 

Pelosi chose Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as one of her eight selections. Cheney already lost her leadership position within the Republican caucus over her refusal to accept the big lie, and said she was “honored” to serve. 

Picking Cheney allows Pelosi to avoid the narrative that would have dominated the independent commission, where the Democratic and Republican appointees would have been evenly split. Instead of neat, party-line battles between Democratic and Republican appointees, Pelosi will likely be able to tout bipartisan decisions and findings, as Cheney has an actual interest in investigating what happened. The independent commission was much more likely to end in a partisan schism, perhaps even with dueling majority and minority reports. 

Ultimately, Republicans saved Democrats from themselves. Democrats right up to Pelosi made clear that they preferred the independent commission model, regardless of its built-in features that would have made it easier for Republicans to manipulate. 

Expect months of GOP objection to every move the committee makes — “witch hunt!” — and dismissal of its fact-finding. But its discoveries will be covered and conclusions made known, with Republicans having very little say over the matter. For that, Republicans have no one to blame but themselves.

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