The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Tentative signs of sanity among the House Republicans? We’ll see.

Supporters of President Trump scaled walls and overtook the U.S. Capitol building during a riot on Jan. 6. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Springtime is here. Is it possible that some fragile green shoots of sanity are sprouting in the tangled patch of weeds that is the House Republican Conference?

That was certainly the impression Republicans were trying to give on Wednesday, as the House debated and passed a measure that would establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the horrific violence that then-President Donald Trump’s supporters inflicted on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

In the final tally, 35 House Republicans voted in favor of the commission. That represents only a minority within the minority. But it also is a marked increase from the 10 who supported impeaching Trump over what he did — and didn’t do — on that day, when Congress had gathered to count the electoral college ballots that made Joe Biden the nation’s 46th president.

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About half of the Republicans who spoke during the debate were among those who voted for Trump’s impeachment. Though Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), one of the more flamboyant and shameless spreaders of lies and conspiracy theories, also spoke, even she seemed more restrained than usual. “The media is going to use this to smear Trump supporters and President Trump for the next few years,” she warned. Both she and Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) argued, as many other Republicans in Congress have, that any commission looking at Jan. 6 should also look at the actions of Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.

But it was notable that there were no claims that the election was stolen, or arguments to justify the actions of the rioters. Nor did House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), an opponent of the proposed commission, speak during the debate, as he normally does when important bills are being considered.

The overall effect was an apparent effort to send a signal — albeit a false one, perhaps — that Republicans are feeling a need to escape the gravitational pull that Trump, like an orange-tinged neutron star, continues to exert on their party.

Still, this was just a week after these same House Republicans purged Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) from her leadership position for the unpardonable sin of continuing to blame the former president for instigating the riot, which was aimed at helping him overturn the result of a fair presidential election that he lost.

Some of the more unhinged among them are still attempting to gaslight Americans about what they saw happening on Jan. 6, and what lawmakers and their staffs experienced.

Notable is Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.), who in photos taken that day can be seen helping to barricade the House gallery doors to prevent rioters from getting in. He now claims the assault, in which people died, was more like a “normal tourist visit.”

An independent probe — and a public reckoning — is not only necessary, but also very much in line with precedent after events of national trauma. The commission would be shaped along the lines of the one that investigated the roots of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and made recommendations for how to prevent similar events in the future.

The legislation is a proposal worked out by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.).

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made several concessions to Republican demands, including that the panel be evenly divided, with Democrats and Republicans each naming half its 10 commissioners, and that any subpoenas it issues require agreement between the Democratic-appointed chair and the Republican vice chair or a vote by a majority of commission members.

Tom Cole (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, signaled the discomfort that many in his party feel over the prospect of being blamed for killing the sensible idea of an investigatory commission.

Even as he argued against the proposal in its current form, Cole noted: “This is one stage in the process. The United States Senate is the next stop. Hopefully, there will be changes made there. Then this would have to come back here.”

Reading between the lines of that statement, this raises the possibility that despite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) announcement earlier Wednesday that he opposed the House legislation, he will find a way to get to yes. Perhaps he could demand the commission report under a tighter deadline than the Dec. 31 date specified in the House bill, or insist upon some face-saving changes in its structure or its mission.

As the tenor of the debate seemed to make clear, the commission is a sound idea — something that even a significant and growing number of Republicans have to recognize.

Read more:

Donna F. Edwards: It’s time for the House to show Marjorie Taylor Greene the door

Greg Sargent: If Joe Manchin really believes this about the GOP, we’re in serious trouble

Jennifer Rubin: Kevin McCarthy proves Liz Cheney’s point

Dana Milbank: When the next attack comes, the blood will be on the GOP’s hands