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Democrats and GOP at odds over scope of commission to investigate Capitol riot

A brewing political fight over the creation of an independent commission to investigate the January 6 riot at the Capitol is focused not only on the partisan makeup of the panel but also over the scope of the probe and how the commission would examine domestic extremism.

Republicans are balking at a plan put forward by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to create an outside commission with more Democrats than Republicans, and one whose mandate they say would go beyond just the security failures of the January 6 insurrection.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday that Pelosi’s plan “sets the stage” for a politicized and cherry-picked inquiry into domestic violent extremism beyond January 6, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Pelosi in a letter this week that Congress should not include predetermined conclusions about what the commission should investigate.

“We could do something narrow that looks at the Capitol or we could potentially do something broader to analyze the full scope of political violence here in our country,” McConnell said. “We cannot land at some artificial politicized halfway point.”

McConnell did not mention Antifa or the violence that occurred during protests of police brutality last year, but his comments implied that Republicans will push to include those events in a broad investigation into domestic extremism in the US.

“The partisan panel wouldn’t get to decide which other incidents are and are not relevant,” McConnell said. “Rioting and political violence are abhorrent and unacceptable no matter what the cause. These are not forms of political speech. For almost a year now we’ve seen political violence and riots become an increasingly normalized phenomenon across our national life. None of us should accept that.”

Pelosi’s draft proposal included findings from the FBI director and an intelligence threat assessment that concluded that home-grown terrorism and extremism is in part the product of racism, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the drafting of the legislation. The draft also includes language that attacks in the future could be motivated by “false narratives.”

The Republican resistance to Pelosi’s plan underscores the political tensions surrounding the creation of an independent commission to investigate what happened on January 6 — and how it should address former President Donald Trump’s role in inciting the rioters who attacked the Capitol.

One top House Republican who voted for impeachment, House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, has said the commission should investigate the lies surrounding the election being stolen from Trump, while other Republican leaders have argued for a narrower focus.

The initial fights over how the legislation to establish the commission should be crafted is a sign that partisan fighting could ultimately scuttle the effort, given how much politics are intertwined in the attack on the Capitol in a way they were not after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the House, Pelosi could push through legislation to create the commission with only Democratic votes, but Democrats will need GOP votes in the Senate to clear a 60-vote threshold.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Wednesday he hoped for the House to take up legislation to create the commission next month, before the House breaks for a recess.

Hoyer acknowledged the politics were more challenging now than when the 9/11 Commission was created.

“There were no Republicans and Democrats on 9/11,” he said.

McCarthy requested changes in letter to Pelosi

McCarthy sent a letter to Pelosi this week with a number of specific requests related to the formation of the commission. In addition to asking that the commission contain an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, McCarthy requested that the mission of the group be determined by its members — and not the legislation passed by Congress, according to the senior Democratic aide.

The letter said that the legislation forming the commission should have “no inclusion of findings or other predetermined conclusions which ultimately should be rendered by the Commission itself.”

Pelosi has said the House will take up legislation to create a commission modeled after the 9/11 commission in order to get to the bottom of the events of January 6. Her draft proposal included House and Senate party leaders appointing two members each, with President Joe Biden appointing two members and the chair, making the party breakdown seven Democrats to four Republicans.

At her weekly press conference last week, Pelosi cited a letter the 9/11 commission wrote about what should go into the commission, saying it largely lined up with her plan. “As soon as we came to terms with that in the last few days, we sent it to the Republicans to see what suggestions they may have, because for this to work, it really has to be strongly bipartisan,” Pelosi said. “So, we’ll hear back from them on that, and I’m excited about that.”

The speaker’s office has responded to McCarthy with specific edits to the discussion draft that included the findings and purposes of the commission, the Democratic aide said, but they have not heard back.

The debate over the findings and purposes of the commission is a significant hold up in the negotiations over the formation of the group, the aide said. Democrats have concerns that the GOP counteroffers to the commission are not aimed at balancing the power of the group, but as a tool to delay it or prevent it from being formed in the first place.

At a news conference Wednesday, McCarthy emphasized the need for changes to Pelosi’s plan, calling for an even partisan split on the commission and for both sides to have subpoena power.

A McCarthy spokesperson said, “Speaker Pelosi’s office has not expressed that they’ll agree to a bipartisan commission with equal subpoena authority.”

Both McCarthy and McConnell cited criticisms from Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the 9/11 commission, over the notion that the commission wouldn’t have an equal partisan balance.

“Don’t take it from me, take it from the Democratic and Republican leaders of the 9/11 Commission, an inquiry with a hardwired partisan slant would never be legitimate in the eyes of the American people,” McConnell said Wednesday.

Cheney says commission should look at false election claims

But just like Trump’s impeachment itself, there’s a split among Republicans about whether the commission should examine the former President’s role.

Cheney, whose House GOP conference post was challenged after she voted to impeach Trump last month, said Tuesday that the commission must look at how the false claims about the election result fueled the insurrectionists who tried to disrupt congressional certification of the election.

“It needs to really be bipartisan and really be, you know, populated with serious individuals who will take a clear-eyed look at what went on,” Cheney said at an event at the Reagan Institute.

“And I think that also has to include what went on in terms of questioning the outcome of the election, and the extent to which, you know, there really was the President and many around him who pushed this idea that the election had been stolen. And that is a dangerous claim. It wasn’t true,” she added.

Asked about Cheney’s comments Wednesday, McCarthy said, “I wouldn’t predetermine what to do.”

“I’ve been very clear that after January 6 we came out first with the 9/11-style commission just as Hamilton and Kean has said, in a clear way,” McCarthy said. “It’s only Speaker Pelosi that’s only trying to make this partisan and others.”

The trust remains low on both sides, including with Democrats still furious over Republicans who embraced Trump’s false conspiracies about the election and voted to try to overturn Biden’s win.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic conference chair, told reporters Wednesday that McCarthy “doesn’t always operate in good faith,” adding that McCarthy “has continued to provide aid and comfort to the insurrectionists, including by voting with those objections” last month.

“All of that said, Speaker Pelosi still presented the framework to the Republicans, which then, of course, instead of leading to some kind of good faith conversation from them, they immediately launched into a partisan political attack,” Jeffries said.

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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