Politics & Policy

Kevin McCarthy Must Stop Stalling on the January 6 Committee

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) delivers remarks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)
The House minority leader’s inaction deprives Republicans of a say in the Capitol-riot probe — and may harm their chances of retaking Congress in 2022.

The House select committee appointed to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot has scheduled its first hearing for July 27 — twelve days from now. As yet, befuddled minority leader Kevin McCarthy has not even announced whether Republicans will participate, let alone who will fill the committee’s five GOP slots.

It’s time for McCarthy to make a move.

Speaker Pelosi has already filled the Democrats’ eight-member allotment with seven of her most effective partisans, along with Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican whose vigorous condemnation of President Trump’s catalyzing role in the riot, coupled with her urging the party to break with Trump, resulted in her being removed — with McCarthy’s support — from her leadership position in the House GOP caucus.

It is ridiculous for McCarthy to consider sitting this out. Convening a select committee is a completely legitimate exercise of Congress’s power to investigate a forcible attack . . . on Congress. It was all well and good for the minority leader and other Republicans (including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell) to oppose a 9/11-style commission of unelected, supposedly objective experts; conducting such an investigation is Congress’s job — not a job to be farmed out to a blue-ribbon panel. But it remains a job worth doing: The Capitol riot clearly warrants a congressional probe.

Is it going to be a largely partisan exercise? Of course it is, Representative Cheney’s suggestions to the contrary notwithstanding.

Apart from Cheney, the committee will include Representatives Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) and Jamie Raskin (D., Md.), who were the chief prosecutors in the first and second Trump impeachment efforts. In addition to Schiff, Pelosi has made sure to add two other members of the California caucus over which she exercises major influence, Zoe Lofgren and Peter Aguilar. The select committee, which will be chaired by Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), who also chairs the Homeland Security Committee that led the failed push for a Jan. 6 Commission, will also include Stephanie Murphy (D., Fla.) and Elaine Luria (D. Va.).

Plainly, Democrats envision the committee as a golden opportunity to advance their racialized political narrative that the “insurrection” was fomented by white supremacists, who pose a terrorist threat to the nation that is even more perilous than that posed by jihadism. In this telling, the “white supremacists” are Trump supporters and other Republicans who are animated by such conservative concerns as free speech, property rights, Second Amendment rights, religious liberty, and limited government — the fundamentals of American society that progressives regard as indelibly racist and systemically oppressive.

That is politics. It doesn’t make the select-committee investigation illegitimate.

Nor is the committee a purely partisan exercise just because its creation has put McCarthy in an uncomfortable position. Naturally, he frets about the outsized influence that Trump’s devoted base currently has on GOP politics. He could have distanced himself and congressional Republicans from Trump after January 6, as Cheney urged. Yet instead, he embraced the former president. In fact, NBC News reports that today, McCarthy is making the pilgrimage to Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., digs to consult the former president on how to handle the January 6 committee. He is not alone among national Republicans in continuing to play courtier. Many of these Republicans are not actually enamored of Trump; they’re merely betting that their political survival depends on appeasing his avid supporters.

Whatever you think of this approach, it was never going to be cost-free.

Now comes a high-profile inquiry that will, as it must, focus on the role played by the then-president of the United States in instigating a demonstration that was specifically intended to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans to derail a constitutionally mandated electoral-vote-counting session. The demonstration, at which Trump gave a demagogic speech, foreseeably deteriorated into a riot — which went on longer than it should have because the then-commander-in-chief declined to use his authority and influence to put a stop to it. McCarthy has tried to avoid the wrath of the Trumpists. But if Republicans are seen as defending the indefensible, they court the wrath of most of the country — and risk blowing the eminently winnable 2022 midterm elections, and thus losing the chance to retake the House and put the brakes on the Biden administration’s ruinous agenda.

Hiding under his desk is not a solution. McCarthy needs to appoint five solid Republicans to this committee. They do not need to be, and should not act as if they are, Trump’s defense lawyers. They should cooperate in getting to the bottom of how the riot came about, and whether anything needs to be done legislatively to minimize the chances of a similar debacle happening in the future.

There are, furthermore, significant matters that need to be pressed and that undercut the Democrats’ political narrative.

The claims that the riot was a full-blown insurrection on a par with a terrorist mass-murder attack, or that white supremacism is the most perilous “violent extremist” threat facing the country, are sheer nonsense. The prosecutions underway (there was another significant guilty plea yesterday, of a notable rioter who is looking at about five years’ imprisonment) illustrate that what happened on January 6, while worthy of condemnation, was nothing like a terrorist attack.

On the other hand, there was far more death and destruction — including attacks on government buildings — during the months of rioting led by radical leftists following George Floyd’s death in May 2020. Why the selective Democratic outrage about January 6? Why are Democrat-dominated states and cities dropping charges against those rioters? Put aside that the Democrats’ insistence on viewing the Capitol riot (and everything else in life) through the prism of racism is not borne out by the facts; the question is: Why should Democratic claims about the supposed white-supremacist peril be taken seriously when they refuse to consider the matter in context with other politically motivated violence?

If it was so critical to investigate the Capitol riot, why was that not done when Democrats relied on the riot as justification for the unprecedented impeachment of a president who was about to leave office — and who was already out of office when his Senate trial occurred? Why did Democrats insist on alleging that Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was killed, at Trump’s instigation, by violent Trump supporters who bashed him over the head with a fire extinguisher? That false claim was not only alluded to in the impeachment article; the Democratic House impeachment managers continued advancing it a month later in their Senate trial brief — even though it was widely known (though not publicly acknowledged) to be untrue, and prosecutors who’d conducted a minimally competent investigation would have discovered that Officer Sicknick died of natural causes (two strokes).

Finally, why were the Capitol Police and their partner security forces so utterly undermanned and unprepared? Clearly, the rioters are principally responsible for the mayhem, and secondary culpability belongs to President Trump and others who egged them on. But when a police force is competent and engaged, incendiary situations tend not to explode into riots. Even with a poor plan and response, the security forces were able to clear the Capitol in just a few hours, enabling Congress to reconvene, and the majority of the demonstrators were, at worst, trespassers who did not engage in violence or vandalism. In light of these facts, it is worth asking: Had the security agencies on which Congress expends a fortune made and executed a competent plan, would the riot have occurred?

All of these questions are relevant to the select committee’s investigation. Republicans need to press them. But they can’t do that if they are AWOL. Kevin McCarthy should stop whining, stop dithering, and appoint five of his members to join the investigation.

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