The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Senate Republicans know they chose cowardice in killing a Jan. 6 investigation. They just proved it.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), left, listens as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) speaks with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Oct. 16, 2019. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Give Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) some credit. On Friday, Senate Republicans put the final nail in the coffin of an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. On Sunday, not one Republican senator appeared on the network talk shows to defend another GOP blow against democracy. Instead, they left it to McCaul to make their case for them during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Some” credit doesn’t mean “a lot.” McCaul’s argument didn’t resolve the hypocrisies and contradictions Republicans have relied on to avoid looking too closely at what happened in January and who is responsible for it. There’s no good way to do that. But at least McCaul defended that position rather than hiding from host Jake Tapper’s questions.

Unlike some Republicans who sought to minimize the events of Jan. 6 from the beginning, McCaul earlier this year came out in support of legislation that would make it easier for prosecutors to charge domestic terrorists and international terrorists the same way. And when defending House Republicans’ sixth investigation into two coordinated attacks on U.S. facilities in the Libyan city of Benghazi, which the party tried to weaponize against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton as she prepared to run for president, McCaul made a strong argument in favor of transparency. “We owe it to the victims, their families and the American people to find out the truth,” he said in 2014.

But when Tapper pressed McCaul on why the public deserved a thorough investigation of Benghazi then, but doesn’t need an independent commission to investigate a catastrophe closer to home, McCaul didn’t have much of an answer.

“I view this not as an overview of policy, like the 9/11 Commission did,” argued McCaul. “It’s a criminal investigation … that properly falls within the venue, the purview of the Department of Justice, where I worked for many years, rather than a politically appointed commission.” While prosecuting campaign finance violations at the Justice Department, where he previously worked, McCaul said a concurrent congressional investigation “provided duplicative testimonies. It undermined our federal investigation.”

That’s hard to swallow. McCaul did not explain how two concurrent investigations would cloud a full accounting of the Jan. 6 insurrection, but six consecutive Benghazi probes, separate from the FBI’s investigation into the attacks, were necessary or helpful.

But more broadly, whether an independent panel on Jan. 6 would have focused on matters of policy or criminal investigations is beside the point. The country needs a Jan. 6 commission similar in structure to a Sept. 11 commission because both days saw an attack on the United States. That the actors behind one assault were foreign and the ones behind the other domestic makes no difference. We need the truth — no matter how inconvenient for one party.

At least McCaul made his case, however weak.

Despite Senate Republicans blocking legislation to create a Jan. 6 commission, members of Congress remained optimistic on May 30 about another investigation. (Video: The Washington Post)

Republican senators, whose votes actually doomed the commission, did not even defend themselves.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) stuck to answering questions on a bipartisan infrastructure package. The rest of her GOP colleagues were absent.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may believe that a commission will hurt Republicans politically. But clearly his caucus believes killing the commission isn’t something to crow about either. And no wonder: A YouGov/Economist poll released last week found that voters supported the commission by a margin of 56 percent to 30 percent. Fifty-one percent of independents and even 28 percent of Republicans back an independent commission. In a heavily polarized country, that’s practically a landslide.

If Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) would finally come to their senses and stop treating the filibuster like their highest priority, Republican cowardice would matter far less. Manchin rightly called GOP opposition to the commission “unconscionable” and a “betrayal of the oath we each take.” But so long as the pair continues to allow Republicans to block any bill of major consequence, that outrage is just empty words.

Nevertheless, the fault ultimately lies with McConnell and the members his caucus. As former Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock said on “Meet the Press,” many Americans “still don’t realize how violent that [day] was. … People are still talking about [sic] these were like tourists. We need to have that full story out. It’s going to get out one way or the other."

Senate Republicans had a chance to stand up for that truth, and to stand in solidarity against an attack on the democratic process itself. They chose cowardice — and their behavior since Friday shows that they know it.

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