Then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) transferred Katko from the underside of that bus into chopped liver. He pitched his own opposition to the deal as opposing “House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal” — despite Katko having forged it. McCarthy, too, said the proposed commission was “unbalanced” and was “driven solely by politics and Nancy Pelosi” — again, despite him having tasked Katko with driving it.
The Republican resistance to the bill is predicated on the idea that it’s some kind of giveaway to Democrats. But Katko’s involvement isn’t the only thing that seems to belie the GOP’s true motivation — and that suggests it’s straining to find a more palatable public justification.
For one, despite the claims that Democrats were running roughshod over the GOP with the proposal — and House GOP leaders whipping votes against it — it actually got the support of 35 House Republicans. That’s a remarkably bipartisan bill on a tough issue by today’s standards.
One in six House Republicans voted for it. That’s difficult to square with the idea that it’s a thoroughly partisan bill, unless one-sixth of the House GOP is composed of double agents or hapless dupes for the Democrats. (Thirty of these members come from Donald Trump districts.)
It’s also a number that, if transferred to the looming Senate vote, would put the bill on the verge of overcoming a filibuster and passing. That 1 in 6 might not seem that impressive, but it is when you consider the House tends to be more partisan than the Senate on such hot-button issues. Add to that the previous comments by Senate Republicans indicating support for a commission similar to the one proposed and it becomes pretty clear that if the bill is indeed defeated in the Senate, it will be because of a concerted effort to prevent that 60-vote threshold, rather than a true GOP consensus.
Second, the proposal negotiated by Katko gave the GOP much of what it wanted out of the deal. It includes two key elements the GOP wanted: an even number of members from both sides and veto power over subpoenas. In many ways it emulates the 9/11 Commission, which has become something of a standard for looking into issues of national security. It also mirrors a bill 30 House Republicans endorsed when the Capitol riot was more raw and there was more impetus for action on the GOP side.
All of which have been points made by the bill’s GOP supporters.
Katko said the bipartisan deal is “nearly identical” to that GOP-proposed bill. But 16 of the 30 Republican co-sponsors of that bill voted against it.
Katko on the House floor Wednesday also sought to debunk many of the GOP criticisms of the bill. Of the idea that it was a partisan bill, he responded: “This is about facts. It’s not about partisan politics.”
Lastly come the GOP’s seeming acknowledgments of their true, political motivations. One that got lots of attention Wednesday was from the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune (S.D.).
“A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward,” Thune said, according to CNN. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections, I think, is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us and the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda.”
Thune had previously entertained the idea of a Jan. 6 commission.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), one of the co-sponsors of the January House bill who opposed the bipartisan compromise Wednesday, seemed to echo that case. He defended his vote by arguing that the bill he had supported was different and saying that “their intent is just to keep the spotlight on Trump, and that’s not right.”
And that’s obviously what this boils down to, at least in large part: the desire to shift that spotlight away from the former president and this particularly ugly chapter.
Republicans have offered some different and shifting justifications for opposing the bill: It didn’t also probe violence at racial-justice protests; it was redundant next to the criminal and other congressional hearings; it’s now increasingly somehow partisan, despite being the product of a bipartisan negotiation entered into with the House minority leader’s blessing and gaining rather significant bipartisan support in the House — not just from the crew that voted to impeach Trump, but also from plenty of others.
Virtually any of these things could have been declared as must-haves at the start of negotiations, rather than post-hoc justifications for opposing the bill. Instead, McCarthy deputized Katko to negotiate it and then waited a few days to rip the rug out from beneath him, with an assist from McConnell.
Perhaps we can just chalk that up to the continually rudderless leadership of McCarthy. But regardless of how we got here, it sure points to the political expediency being on decidedly one side — and not the one McCarthy and McConnell are pointing to.