“I’m looking at the minority leader’s statement — and I’m pissed to be honest with you,” House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern (D-MA) said Tuesday.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) statement had dropped just minutes before the hearing began, potentially delivering a death blow to a proposed commission tasked with investigating the January 6 attack. The House minority leader said he opposed the bipartisan proposal for a laundry list of reasons: it’d be political, duplicative, myopic, harmful to ongoing investigations.
An irate McGovern rifled through his papers, clutching in both hands letters McCarthy had sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) with his demands about how the commission should be structured.
McGovern ticked through the concerns the bipartisan team of House Homeland Security committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and ranking member John Katko (R-NY) had addressed: equal composition of commissioners chosen by both parties, a cooperative approach to subpoenas.
“What’s frustrating to me is that this does not seem to be a disagreement over substance or policy,” he said. “I do think this is an issue of character and fitness to lead.”
McGovern got angrier as he recalled being the last person to leave the House floor on January 6, watching rioters smash the windows on the chamber doors “with hate in their eyes.” He relayed conversations with Capitol employees still “traumatized” from the violent attack on their workplace.
“I assume what happened is that Trump got wind of what we were doing and called up the minority leader and said ‘I don’t like it,’” McGovern said with disgust.
The bill, he finished, “should enjoy the support of every single member of this chamber and the top leader of the Republican Party comes out and says ‘I can’t do it, I can’t support it’ — it is pathetic.”
McCarthy’s statement put a pall over the Tuesday hearing, meant to debate and consider amendments to the bill that would stand up the commission. Ranking member Tom Cole (R-OK) gave Katko and Thompson hearty kudos before reaching for reasons not to support their bill.
He brought up the 14 months that elapsed between 9/11 and its commission, suggesting that the January 6 commission be similarly delayed. He also asked why the “wave of violence” from last year was not included in the proposal, echoing the common GOP attempt to expand the commission’s scope so far that it’ll obscure former President Donald Trump’s culpability in January 6.
Both Thompson and Katko vouched for the importance of a laser-focused commission, and Katko added that there is an urgent need to act quickly, before bad actors take advantage of the now-obvious permeability of the Capitol.
Rep. Michelle Fishbach (R-MN) brought up the possibility of the minority writing its own report, tipping her cards that she expects unanimity to be difficult, if not impossible, for the commission to reach.
McCarthy’s disapproval — and Katko’s involvement in the planning — puts Republicans in a tricky position. While the only proposal came from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), it was easy for Republicans to dismiss as a partisan gambit. Now, they’ll have to condemn a bipartisan bill.
McCarthy has given them leeway to do so, and many likely will, though Katko maintained optimism (“I’m proud that there’s gonna be some Republican support for it — a considerable amount, I hope”). Katko’s outlier status as one of the few Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment will likely help many of them oppose his bill.
But Democrats have the majority in the House — the Senate is where this dynamic really matters.
So far, Republican leadership there isn’t ruling it out, though the filibuster gives them the power to sink the bill if they want to. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said at a press conference Tuesday that his caucus is still “undecided” and “willing to listen to arguments” in favor of the commission. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) came out of the GOP Senate lunch Tuesday afternoon telling reporters that he supports an independent commission focused just on the insurrection.
But as an exchange during the House Rules committee hearing showed, no one is over-confident.
Cole, the ranking member, asked Thompson and Katko if they’d been in talks with Senate counterparts about passing the bill.
“I learned a long time ago not to count your chickens before they hatch, so I’ll just leave it at that,” Thompson replied.