Now that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has pulled Republicans out of the Jan. 6 select committee, numerous news accounts and media figures are treating this as a standard partisan skirmish in which both sides are equivalently to blame. Incredibly, some are even leaning toward declaring Republican outrage to be reasonably grounded.
Your humble blogger would like to propose that all of us covering this ask ourselves a simple, guiding question: What sort of inquiry into Jan. 6 would Republicans declare to be a legitimate one?
If the answer to this question is unsatisfactory to media figures — that is, if what constitutes a legitimate inquiry in the eyes of Republicans is not something they would see as reasonable or acceptable — then it must follow that Republicans are to blame for the failure to achieve a bipartisan investigation, by the lights of media figures themselves.
First, let’s note that the idea that the investigation into Jan. 6 must be bipartisan is something many media figures are themselves treating as an important civic goal. News accounts are widely casting the inability to achieve one as an inherent failure.
The bare-bones chronology is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nixed two of McCarthy’s choices — Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — from serving on the committee. McCarthy then pulled his nominations of all other Republicans and declared none would serve.
The conventions of political reporting require that this is portrayed as a battle between equivalently motivated partisans: It’s a “partisan fight” or a “partisan brawl” or an escalation of “political tensions” or an “inability” to achieve a “bipartisan committee.”
Pelosi nixed Banks and Jordan because they have openly declared their hostility to the committee’s core investigative mission and have repeatedly raised doubts about the integrity of Donald Trump’s loss. They validated the lies that inspired the insurrection in the first place.
In short: Pelosi did not allow them to serve on the committee because their openly telegraphed goal was to sabotage the committee.
McCarthy then angrily pulled out, insisting that this showed Pelosi is the one who doesn’t want a real accounting. But McCarthy picked Banks and Jordan so that they would carry out the goal of sabotaging that accounting.
You’d think those basics make it inescapable to conclude that McCarthy and Republicans are the real culprits here. But some media figures have found a way around this. Whatever the specifics, they say, it’s important to allow McCarthy to have his choices so that it’s perceived as bipartisan and seen as credible by Republican voters.
“Pelosi’s move will make the investigation even easier to dismiss for people who aren’t die-hard members of Team Blue,” Politico’s Playbook insists, stressing the importance of making it “credible to the right.”
But what, exactly, would it take for this investigation to be “credible to the right”? What would the cost of this be?
We already know the answer to this, because Republicans have told us. Banks suggested the investigation should ascribe more importance to the riots associated with police protest than to the Jan. 6 mob assault.
McCarthy, for his part, has claimed that Republicans will run their own investigation now. On Fox News, he hinted where this might lead, asking: “Was there a decision made by the Speaker not to have the National Guard at the Capitol that day?” Similarly, Jordan has asked whether Pelosi failed to supply adequate security at the Capitol.
Those suggestions are all nonsense. Pelosi did not make any such decision about the National Guard, and the speaker doesn’t control Capitol security. But the point is, for Republicans, investigating those already-settled questions are what constitutes an investigation they would accept.
Relatively reasonable Republicans have also answered this question. Republicans on two Senate committees would not endorse a report on security lapses until the language was negotiated down to vastly minimize the role of Trump’s lies in inciting the rioters and to downplay their express goal of overturning the election.
The huge hole in this debate is that many media figures do not seem to be publicly wrestling with whether those types of GOP requirements for an investigation into Jan. 6 are reasonable or defensible ones. That question requires a value judgment.
If it’s okay to make the value judgment that failing to achieve a bipartisan investigation is inherently a blameworthy thing, then it should also be okay to make a value judgment about whether Republican conditions for a bipartisan investigation are reasonable or defensible.
If they are not, then doesn’t it automatically follow that Republicans are the ones to blame for the collapse of a bipartisan select committee?
Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman: How Kevin McCarthy is boosting the integrity of the Jan. 6 investigation
Bidtah Becker and Anne Castle: This ‘infrastructure’ fix is simple: Pipe clean water to Native Americans