McCarthy Comes Out Against Bipartisan January 6 Commission Proposal

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 28: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference May 28, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. McCarthy held news conference to fill questions f... WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 28: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference May 28, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. McCarthy held news conference to fill questions from members of the press. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 18, 2021 10:26 a.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Tuesday came out against the January 6 commission proposed last week by a bipartisan team. 

He gave a laundry list of reasons why he opposes it: pique after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) delay in giving Republicans her initial proposal, concern that a commission would run afoul of other ongoing investigatory efforts and insistence that the commission also scrutinize other forms of violence. 

Specifically, he wrote that the commission’s investigation could muck up the Department of Justice prosecutions of Capitol insurrections, as well as various congressional committees’ investigations into the attack and events that led to it.

“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 wrote. 

The proposal for the commission, crafted by House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and ranking member John Katko (R-NY), seemingly came as a surprise to Republican leadership. McCarthy said at the time that he’d have to dig into the details before commenting on it. 

However, McCarthy had reportedly pushed Katko to negotiate with Democrats in the first place, and to keep him apprised of the discussion’s progress. 

On its face, the commission’s scope in the Thompson-Katko proposal seemed likely to incur GOP opposition. In the legislation, the scope is restricted to the attack on January 6 and the factors that led to it — exactly what Democrats had been pushing for. Republicans, squeamish about the notion of a commission investigating Trump’s — and, by extension, their — involvement in the election fraud conspiracy that led to the attack, have pushed to muddy the waters. 

“The renewed focus by Democrats to now stand up an additional commission ignores the political violence that has struck American cities, a Republican Congressional baseball practice, and, most recently, the deadly attack on Capitol Police on April 2, 2021,” McCarthy wrote in his Tuesday statement. 

Some Republicans have advocated for the commission’s focus to be broadened to a comic extent, and for it to look into supposed left-wing violence including during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and “antifa.” Other GOP members have urged the opposite: to keep the probe very narrow and focused on just the security breakdowns on January 6 itself.

In addition to the scope issues, the involvement of Katko as the primary GOP negotiator — he is one of the very few Republican lawmakers to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump — did not necessarily guarantee mainstream Republican compliance. 

McCarthy may have personal reasons for opposing the commission as well. He had a phone call with Trump while the attack was unfurling on January 6, and would almost certainly be called in before a commission to testify about its contents. Publicly, he’s been very reluctant to discuss it.

Pelosi gave a withering response to McCarthy’s opposition Tuesday morning.

“I’m very pleased that we have a bipartisan bill to come to the floor and it’s disappointing but not surprising that the cowardice on the part of some on the Republican side not to want to find that truth,” she told reporters.

The bill is expected to go to the House floor on Wednesday, where it’ll likely pass. Its fate in the Senate is much less certain: the endurance of the legislative filibuster and general Republican anxiety about a commission focused on January 6 and the Trump conspiracy theories give GOP members power and motive to sink the proposal, or to force changes.

In a hearing on funding the commission Tuesday morning, House Rules Committee chair Jim McGovern (D-MA) panned McCarthy’s response, which came out minutes before the hearing started. 

“It’s alarming, given all that we’ve been through,” he said. 

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