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Opinion How Republicans will try to cripple the commission investigating the insurrection

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Feb. 13 called out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for delaying the Senate impeachment trial. (Video: The Washington Post)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced over the weekend that Democrats are seeking to create a commission to “investigate and report on the facts and causes” related to the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol.

This commission will theoretically be modeled after the 9/11 commission, meaning it will be bipartisan, independent and established by legislation. One of its goals, as Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) put it, will be to “lay bare the record of just how responsible” Donald Trump was for the attack.

Which is exactly why Republicans are likely to do everything they can to cripple it with a barrage of bad-faith nonsense designed to water down its goal of producing an actual reckoning with the causes of insurrection, and especially with the former president’s role in inciting it.

Given that Democrats are currently trying to produce legislation that would set up this commission — as happened with the 9/11 commission — one way Republicans could block this effort is by filibustering that legislation in the Senate.

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And in that regard, one big question is whether Republicans will willingly permit this commission to have subpoena power.

After all, real subpoena power might permit the commission to reconstruct the answers to some big unknowns around what Trump knew while the mob rampaged through the Capitol.

There is mounting evidence that Trump was aware that then-vice president Mike Pence’s life was in danger when Trump again riled up the mob against him. And Trump reportedly sided with the mob as insurrectionists were crashing into the office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Witnesses can contribute a great deal to filling in this full picture.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who served as one of the impeachment managers, said a serious reckoning will have to include digging deeper into Trump’s role and conduct, and as such will require subpoena power.

“I don’t think we can get a full picture of what happened without subpoenaing uncooperative witnesses,” Swalwell told me.

Congressional expert Norman Ornstein thinks it’s unlikely that Republicans will willingly permit this commission to have real subpoena power.

“I would be very surprised if they do,” Ornstein told me. “They don’t want a commission that’s going to be able to show in even more vivid detail the culpability of Trump.”

Republicans might also resist subpoena power to protect their own. A handful of House Republicans had ties to some of the extremist groups that waged the assault, and in some cases they actively promoted the gathering at the Capitol.

Ornstein noted that a commission might be able to reconstruct “what kind of communications Trump had” with the “House members who were clearly involved.”

However, Ornstein pointed out that if Republicans do filibuster the bill creating the commission, then Democrats can hold “multiple cloture votes,” putting them in a jam.

Seven Senate Republicans voted to convict Trump, so you’d think they’d also support the commission. That means it would have to gain the support of at least three more GOP senators to overcome a filibuster.

That might be easy to accomplish. Or it might not: You can also see Republicans coming up with fake excuses for supporting a filibuster, by insisting that they generally support a commission but that the particular scope and focus Democrats want is the problem.

Indeed, it’s already clear how Republicans might make this case. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), for instance, has declared that we need a commission “to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again,” and to ensure that the Capitol’s security is improved.

That sounds supportive, but it’s easy to see Graham sliding effortlessly from that to insisting that the commission must be focused mainly on the security lapses and how to avoid them next time.

Republicans will then blast Democrats for wanting to reconstruct Trump’s role by claiming Democrats are looking backward, consumed in hatred of Trump and reneging on President Biden’s promises to achieve “unity.”

Still another approach might be for Republicans to insist that any serious reckoning with extremist political violence must also include a look at antifa and the organized left-wing violence that Trump and his top officials largely fabricated throughout the campaign.

A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide predicted to me that, for Republicans, this will likely “devolve into an effort to falsely claim that left-wing terrorism is an equal if not greater threat than the white supremacists who perpetrated the Jan. 6 attack.”

“The 9/11 commission model depends on the good-faith cooperation of a Republican leadership that no longer exists,” the aide continues. “This is no longer John McCain’s and George W. Bush’s Republican Party.”

“We’re about to find out how serious Republicans are about getting to the bottom of what happened,” Swalwell told me. “If that mob had broken through the House chamber doors, I don’t think they were going to distinguish between Republicans and Democrats.”

Read more:

Matt Bai: Our institutions didn’t fail when Trump attacked them. Quite the opposite.

Tom Coleman and John C. Danforth: Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment to stop Trump from running again

Jennifer Rubin: The trial is over. Now we can finally return to governance.

Greg Sargent: Ugly new attacks on Republicans who defied Trump hint at a dark GOP future