Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote this week on a deal forged with Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) establishing a 10-member commission with subpoena power to investigate the Capitol insurrection. Yet House and Senate GOP leaders haven’t signed on. The House is also proceeding with a $2 billion security supplemental bill with uncertain prospects in the Senate.
Pelosi’s deal on the commission accommodates long-running Republican demands for equal representation on the commission, with each party selecting half the members. But after former President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the election as well as an ongoing effort among a small contingent of Republicans to gloss over the death and destruction in the Capitol, the commission has become a sensitive issue in the GOP.
“I sense resistance on it,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), when asked to gauge the level of support among his Republican colleagues. “But we shouldn’t have any hesitancy to put a spotlight on [Jan. 6], because we don’t want that to ever happen again.”
“We shouldn’t feel defensive,” he added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to address the topic when asked on Monday and was noncommittal at a leadership meeting on the topic, instead soliciting input from his lieutenants, according to a source familiar.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has also declined to endorse the deal between Pelosi and Katko, a moderate Republican. The House is set to vote Wednesday on the commission, but as of now most House Republicans are expected to vote against it, according to a House GOP source. Democrats, meanwhile, are only expecting a dozen or so Republican defections.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee and the No. 4 GOP leader, said that he believes a commission could get in the way of Congress’s ongoing inquiry into why the police response was inadequate during the riot. Blunt believes the structure of the U.S. Capitol Police hindered an effective response and that Congress needs to change its governance.
“The commission will slow us down from some of the things we need to do with the Capitol Police and police board,” Blunt said. “I’ll look at what they do but I’m no fan of the commission, which on this topic I think will slow down getting to the decisions that we all know we need to make.”
Democrats see things differently, particularly after Pelosi made significant concessions toward the GOP on the structure of the panel. Though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn’t yet laid out a plan for consideration in the Senate, Democrats broadly support the bill. Still, they are aware the proposal will need at least 10 Republican supporters and are watching the vote total in the House this week.
“Certainly if there’s a 9/11 commission there needs to be a commission on the attempted overthrow of our government,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership.
Republicans are all over the map when it comes to the commission. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who led the GOP’s challenge to the 2020 election in the Senate, said he’d like to see any commission look into the killing of a Capitol Police officer in April and “rioting on federal properties in 2020,” a reference to other unrelated protests. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said there shouldn’t be any “artificial constraint” to what the commission should look at. And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he’s “not real nuts that congressional leadership would be selecting the commissioners.”
That’s not a uniform view, however. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said most Republicans were going to hang back until the House passes it and that “at some point” the Senate will OK a commission “principally focused on what happened here on” Jan. 6.
“It’s entirely appropriate to understand why Jan. 6 happened, who was part of that and what lessons we can learn so something of this nature can be avoided in the future,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
Republican senators that could have the power to slow down or demand changes said they may take their cues from whether McCarthy ends up embracing the deal. As of Monday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was not whipping for or against the bill.
“If the House Republican leadership and the House Democrat leadership can come together in a bipartisan way then I’d look very seriously at what they wanted to propose,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). “If you’re going to get into this, the way to get bipartisan agreement is to look at the broad scope of issues.”
McCarthy declined to answer questions about the commission on Monday, but told reporters last week he hadn’t yet signed off on the bipartisan deal and reiterated his position that any commission should examine all kinds of political violence, not just Jan. 6. So far, only a handful of House Republicans have publicly signaled their support for the legislation, including freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), who voted to impeach Trump, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was recently ousted from leadership for her repeated criticism of the ex-president.
Many House Republicans are keeping their powder dry until they get a better sense for where GOP leadership falls on the issue, even though McCarthy and his deputies currently have no plans to formally whip members either way on the commission. Katko did, however, discuss the details of his proposal during a whip’s meeting Monday night.
“Right now, I think we’re split,” said one plugged-in GOP lawmaker. “I think at conference tomorrow, we’ll be able to hash it out, hear from McCarthy, see what he thinks.”
The path forward for the House’s security supplemental is also unclear. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that it needs to be looked at more closely and warned against a “rush to judgment.”
And in the House GOP, there may be even less support for the supplemental package than the Jan. 6 commission. Said Bacon: “I’m leaning against it, it’s a lot of money. We should probably get out of this commission better ideas of what to do.”