It’s bad because, despite attempts to distance the party from Trump after the Capitol riot, those efforts clearly failed and the GOP is saddled with Trump.
But mostly, it’s bad because it forces them to relive this ugly chapter at a time when, history suggests, their chances of regaining control of Congress in the 2022 election look increasingly good. It’s a time in which focusing on pretty much anything else would be better, as even a top Republican has acknowledged.
And if you look closely at how Republicans have defended this decision, you’ll see how much they are foraging for reasons to oppose it.
Initially, the argument was that the commission should focus not just on the Capitol riot, but also on unrelated violence at other demonstrations — specifically involving far-left antifa activists and at Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
It was a somewhat odd demand for a few reasons. First, those weren’t attacks on the seat of federal government. Second, the scale of the violence was much smaller on a per capita basis, and it had occurred many months in the past. And third, unlike the Capitol riot, it wasn’t based upon demonstrably false claims pushed by politicians, including the president of the United States.
But even if we set that all aside, that justification soon gave way to another chief argument.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who a few weeks ago urged such a broader focus, came out against the commission as “shortsighted,” “duplicative” and “potentially counterproductive.” He pitched it as being some kind of partisan proposal, despite the deal having been agreed to by the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), whom McCarthy had deputized to negotiate the agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) soon joined in the argument, delivering a perhaps decisive blow to the commission while calling it “House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal” — again, despite the bipartisan agreement. He also suggested that Congress and the Justice Department were already doing enough to probe the issue.
The blow was apparently decisive not just because it seemed as though the Senate might get the 10 GOP votes necessary to launch the commission and because McConnell is the Senate GOP’s leader. But also because McConnell had been among Trump’s harshest critics on Jan. 6 — and seemed to want to turn the page on Trumpism in his party.
Since then, it has only become clearer that the commission is very likely done for. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is retiring and who, unlike McConnell, voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trial, also came out against the commission, echoing McConnell’s case against it.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), too, had warned that the commission might be redundant. But on Sunday, he put forth a different but related case against the commission: that it was too early.
“Well, I think it’s too early to create a commission, and I believe Republicans in the Senate will decide that it’s too early to create that commission,” Blunt told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
Blunt added: “There’s a bipartisan effort in the Senate with two committees to produce not only a report, but also a number of recommendations, and we should be able to do that in the first full week of June. And we haven’t even waited for that to decide what a commission should do.”
He cited the 9/11 Commission — what many people regard as the gold standard of such commissions — and noted that it wasn’t approved until late 2002, more than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The thing about Blunt’s argument is that, although it was quickly derided by critics, it’s probably the best of the lot. It doesn’t pretend an attack on the U.S. Capitol is somehow tied to other things simply by virtue of involving protesters and violence. It doesn’t claim that the commission proposal is partisan even though it was the product of a bipartisan negotiation blessed by a top GOP leader (and supported by 1 in 6 House Republicans). It argues that Congress should try to look at this for now, and, if a commission is deemed to be warranted, that can always be done.
There are costs to such a delay, certainly, including fading recollections of people involved in central events — in this case Americans, which was less the case in the 2001 attacks. You could also certainly argue that a bipartisan commission might be a better use of resources in our polarized environment. If the 9/11 Commission was a success, why not do that from the start in this case? Given that Democrats control Congress, why not put this under the control of a bipartisan commission?
But the GOP arguments against this commission have also been all over the map. If your argument is that Congress should deal with this through the normal process (at least initially), you can say that from the start about virtually any potential proposal. If you’re worried about a partisan proposal, why allow a Republican to negotiate it … and then come out against it?
It’s understandable that different members will have different reasons to vote against the commission, but given the very real GOP buy-in on this proposal, it just looks a whole lot like people whose party’s political futures could be harmed by the commission are throwing a bunch of reasons to oppose it at the wall and seeing what sticks.