The House of Representatives approved last Wednesday a piece of legislation that would create a commission to investigate the assault on the Capitol on January 6th. The final form of the January 6th commission was negotiated by Rep. John Katko (R-NY) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and although it was opposed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), it was still approved with the support of all Democrats and 35 Republicans.
According to a fact sheet presented by both Rep. Thomspon and Katko, the commission would be in charge of “investigating and reporting upon the facts and causes over the January 6th attack on the Capitol”, it would be composed by a bipartisan body of 10 members with 5 members appointed by Democrats (Schumer and Pelosi) while the other 5 members being appointed by Republicans (McCarthy and McConnell).
The January 6th Commission would have, just like the one established after 9/11, the authority to “issue subpoena” to acquire information that is crucial for their investigation, although such power could only be used after the agreement of the majority of the board or via an agreement between the Chair (Democrat) and the ViceChair (Republican).
The bill that was approved by the House requires the Commission to produce a final report on the January 6th attack on the Capitol by December 31, 2021. Such a document would have to explain both the causes of the assault and any recommendations authored by the commission to prevent any further attacks against the democratic institutions of the United States.
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McCarthy announced his decision to oppose the bill earlier this week as he said the process was marred by “political misdirections”, had a “potentially counterproductive nature” and was shortsighted as it didn’t examine “interrelated forms of political violence”. Days after this decision, the majority of the Republican conference on the floor decided to follow McCarthy and vote against the bill, although there was a significant number of Republican defections who decided to vote for the bill regardless.
Unlikely to survive
With the bill having passed the House, it is now up to the Senate to decide if the project drafted by Reps. Thompson and Katko will get a vote and be sent to the President’s desk for its signing or veto. However, unlike in the House where a simple majority is sufficient to get anything done, the existence of the filibuster in the Senate requires for most laws to get 60 votes to get passed.
While Democrats were able to bypass the Filibuster when he got his COVID-19 relief package through Congress with the tiebreaker vote of his Vicepresident Kamala Harris thanks to the budget reconciliation process, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) won’t be able to do the same this time as reconciliation is only applicable for legislation that is related to tax and spending.
Hence, for the January 6th Commission bill to become law, Democrats would need either for the Republicans to not push a filibuster on the floor and permit a vote or for 10 Republicans (a fifth of the whole GOP conference) to be willing to vote for cloture and bring down any Filibuster that might be raised to avoid the passing of the bill.
Due to this fact, the bill needs the implicit or explicit support of the leader of the minority in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), if the bill is to have any hope for becoming law. However, on Tuesday the Senator from Kentucky declared his opposition to the bill calling it “slanted and unbalanced” and saying that the current congressional investigations to the attack are more than enough for explaining what happened on January 6th.
With McConnell’s open opposition, the bill has a very difficult path of ever becoming an actual law, as there are few prospects for 10 Senators to openly defy McConnell and vote down any attempted Filibuster that might be brought against the January 6th Commission.
Some Senators have declared that even if they support the efforts of the House to create a specific Committee to investigate the causes of the January 6th attacks, they would want to have some changes over the language of the bill. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) saying it was important that the staff composing the commission would not be selected by the majority party.
The politics behind the January 6th Commission
Besides the arguments of the staffing and need of the commission, there is a political calculus also going on regarding the establishment of a commission. With some Republicans fearing that the commission would become a central part of the Democrat’s strategy towards the 2022 midterm. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb) even said that much of the discussion going on in the House at the moment “seems like thinly-veiled midterm strategy”.
The rationale over that is fairly simple: the commission would maintain the events of January 6th fresh in the voters’ mind and would serve as a weapon by the Democratic party to keep its base energized while also remembering the voters of the chaos of January 6th and the role Trump played on it.
Republicans, on the other hand, are eager to move from January 6th (one of the reasons they unceremoniously deposed Liz Cheney) and focus on energizing their base by centring their message on the policies of the Biden administration and avoiding any costly conflicts with a still embittered but popular Trump in Mar-a-Lago.
While it looks increasingly difficult for the January 6th Commission to come to existence, at least in its present form, the reality is that neither Republicans nor Democrats can avoid what happened on January 6th, the Capitol was attacked and there needs to be a detailed and non-partisan review of what happened if democracy is to survive.
Keeping democracy strong is more important than any political calculus and Democrats should avoid the temptation of using any commission as an electoral strategy while Republicans need to accept the fact that it is impossible to just sweep January 6th under the rug and act as if it never happened.