House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he was “booked in all these different meetings.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told reporters he was tied up with a committee hearing.
Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who rose to her position after her predecessor was sacked for criticizing Trump’s role in the attack, declined to say whether she watched.
Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.) said he did watch — but only the opening statement from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has joined the panel in defiance of her party, not the officers’ testimony.
“I was quite disappointed,” he told ABC News.
The seeming lack of interest in learning the details of an attack prompted by their party’s president that featured calls to find and hang the vice president was all the more bracing given the dramatic testimony from the four police officers about the threat posed by attackers they cast as “terrorists” seeking to overthrow democracy.
Republicans have consistently opposed establishing a special commission or committee to investigate the insurrectionists who attempted to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results by breaking into the halls of Congress, threatening the safety of lawmakers who were evacuated to secure locations.
But their reasoning has vacillated between warnings that it would be too partisan, to it would impede law enforcement investigations, to it should also look into violence at racial justice protests in several cities last summer.
The struggle to explain their near-blanket opposition to having Congress examine the causes and ramifications of the insurrection has left the party open to charges that it is avoiding a thorough investigation of the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 because of its ties to Trump’s false claims about the 2020 presidential election and because of potential political damage in the 2022 midterm elections.
On Tuesday, the officers who testified expressed disgust at the attempt by many Republicans to downplay the severity of the attack.
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them, and too many in this room . . . are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or hell actually wasn’t that bad,” said D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack and concussion from being beaten and hit with a stun gun by rioters, while furiously slamming his fist on the witness table. “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Other officers made clear they hold Trump partially responsible for the attack and resent what they described as his coddling of the rioters.
“To me, it’s insulting, just demoralizing because of everything that we did to prevent everyone in the Capitol from getting hurt,” said Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell. “And what he was doing, instead of sending the military, instead of sending the support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense, he begged them to continue fighting.”
“I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day that he claimed,” Gonell added.
He said that members of the mob on Jan. 6 repeatedly told him that “Trump sent us.”
Republican leaders focused most of their comments Tuesday on attempting to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the events of Jan. 6, arguing that she was responsible for officers not being sufficiently prepared to repel the pro-Trump mob.
“January 6 should have never happened,” McCarthy said at a news conference outside the Capitol. “We should have prepared and been prepared for the officers, made sure they have the training and the equipment that they needed.”
McCarthy and other House GOP leaders also took aim at Pelosi for removing from the select committee Reps. Jordan and Jim Banks (Ind.), two of the five Republican members McCarthy selected. McCarthy later withdrew his three other picks in protest. McCarthy suggested that the two were removed because they wanted to explore the role of the speaker’s office in the security breakdown.
He said Pelosi would put on the committee only people who “will ask the questions she wants asked.”
The Capitol Police Board controls security at the Capitol. On Jan. 6, the board consisted of the House sergeant-at-arms, Paul D. Irving, who was hired under Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), and the Senate sergeant-at-arms, Michael Stenger, who was hired in 2018 when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was majority leader.
McCarthy did not say whether he felt McConnell had also failed to protect the Capitol in his role as Senate leader at the time.
He later tweeted out a list of questions he said “Pelosi’s sham committee won’t answer.”
“Why was the Capitol left so vulnerable that day? Why wasn’t the National Guard here? Why didn’t we have a better security posture? What changes are needed to make sure it never happens again?” he wrote
But McCarthy’s comments sidestepped the fact that many of the questions he raised about the security of the Capitol could have been addressed by an independent commission modeled on the panel created to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks that he and many Republicans opposed despite it being the product of deal between the bipartisan leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee. It’s also not clear that the select committee will not address those questions as part of its probe.
House Republicans have said they plan to conduct their own parallel investigation of Jan. 6, but it’s unclear what they will do. McCarthy offered no further details on timing nor structure of the investigation Tuesday.
Some members in McCarthy’s conference appeared indifferent to the idea of pursuing their own investigation and shrugged off the police officers’ condemnation of lawmakers who have downplayed the events of Jan. 6.
“I don’t know of anybody that’s tried to downplay it and other than, you know, their gross exaggeration that it’s the worst attack on democracy since the Civil War,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who has downplayed the severity of the attack.
Gohmert joined other Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida, at a news conference outside the Justice Department on Tuesday where they attempted to call out what they claimed is unjust treatment of defendants detained after the attack at the U.S. Capitol. They accused the department of withholding information on detention conditions and treating the defendants unfairly.
The news conference ended quickly due to hecklers.
Several Republicans voiced their anger at Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) for the apostasy of opposing Trump and accepting spots on the committee from Pelosi against the wishes of leadership.
Inside the weekly meeting of House Republicans, the far-right flank of McCarthy’s caucus homed in on ways to penalize Cheney and Kinzinger.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, stood and offered a rule change that would not allow any Republican to continue to remain officially in the conference if they ever accepted committee assignments from the Democrats, according to three Republicans familiar with the meeting.
The proposal from Biggs, if adopted, would effectively expel Cheney and Kinzinger from the conference, taking away their committee assignments and other honorifics that come through such membership.
McCarthy has suggested that Cheney could face some punishment for working with Pelosi on this issue, but he has declined to say if he would actively support such an effort. Biggs’s proposal will be referred to a committee of Republicans to study it, giving GOP leaders time to let the matter be handled.
Both Cheney and Kinzinger dismissed their Republican critics, saying they are focused on an attack they have characterized as a serious threat to democracy.
“Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution? I pray that is not the case,” Cheney said during her opening statement. “I pray that we all remember our children are watching as we carry out this solemn and sacred duty entrusted to us. Our children will know who stood for truth and they will inherit a nation. We hand to them a republic if we can keep it.”
Some GOP members expressed little appetite for retaliating against Cheney and Kinzinger. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), who was initially appointed by McCarthy to the select committee, said he didn’t support expelling them from the conference or stripping his two colleagues of their committee assignments.
“Political retribution and political consequences come in the second Tuesday of November every other year,” said Armstrong. “And I just think that they’re elected to represent a constituency and they have every right to do it.”
Armstrong and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) were two of the few Republicans to publicly sympathize with and come out in support of the police officers who delivered testimony Tuesday. Davis referred to U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn as “a friend,” and heralded the officers for telling their stories and reminding the American public that “those who wanted to hurt our officers, and hurt people inside this Capitol need to be held to the fullest extent of the law accountable for the crimes committed.”
The top two Senate Republicans, McConnell and Minority Whip John Thune (S.D.) both said Tuesday they were busy and did not watch the hearing. Asked about the officers’ testimony, they did not engage in the same whataboutism and blame-deflecting as top House Republicans, but neither man expressed regret for their party’s handling of the aftermath.
McConnell pointed reporters to his previous statements condemning the riot and Trump’s role in fomenting it. “I don’t see how I could have expressed myself more forthrightly than I did on that occasion, and I stand by everything I said,” he said.
Thune praised the four officers — “I have great respect for what they went through, what they did, what they do, and I think what they say needs to be taken very seriously” — but also accused Pelosi of politicizing the probe without answering a question about whether Senate Republicans regret not backing a bipartisan commission that would have given GOP appointees equal representation.
Asked at the hearing what he wanted the committee to achieve through its investigation, Dunn expressed his belief that people beyond the attackers should be held responsible, comparing the mob to a hit man.
“If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail,” he said. “But not only does the hit man go to jail, but the person who hired them does. It was an attack carried out on Jan. 6, and a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that,” he said.
Kim Bellware, Paul Kane, Mike DeBonis and Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.