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Bipartisan House probe of Jan. 6 insurrection falls apart after Pelosi blocks two GOP members

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 1.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 1. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg News)
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Plans for a bipartisan committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection fell apart Wednesday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) moved to block two controversial Republicans appointed by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from sitting on the panel — paving the way for two separate and largely partisan investigations of the violent attack on the Capitol.

Pelosi called on McCarthy to name two new Republicans to the committee after refusing to appoint conservative Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a privilege she has as speaker. As staunch backers of former president Donald Trump, both members voted against his impeachment and pushed to overturn the election results certifying Joe Biden as president.

“With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these Members, I must reject the recommendations of Representatives Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The unprecedented nature of January 6th demands this unprecedented decision.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on July 21 said that House Republicans would conduct their own Jan. 6 investigation. (Video: The Washington Post)

McCarthy instead vowed to go his own way, pulling all five Republicans he had named off the committee and saying the GOP would launch its “own investigation of the facts,” without providing specifics on what such an inquiry would entail. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a sharp Trump critic chosen by Pelosi, is the only Republican remaining on the panel.

 “We will run our own investigation,” McCarthy said during a news conference Wednesday. “[Americans] don’t deserve politics, they don’t deserve destroying the institution. No committee in Congress will work if one person is picking all who can serve.”

The inability of the House to move forward with a bipartisan committee marks the latest failure in repeated attempts by members of Congress to investigate the first storming of the Capitol in more than 200 years. Both parties have attacked the other as insincere and uninterested in conducting a fair-minded examination of the attack by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the 2020 election.

Earlier this year, Pelosi proposed appointing an independent bipartisan commission akin to the panel that investigated the 9/11 attacks, made up of experts not currently holding public office or any government role. Over the course of negotiations, Democrats acquiesced to several of the GOP’s demands, including that the panel be evenly weighted between Republican and Democratic appointees, that its subpoena power be subject to agreement between the appointees of both parties and that the establishing legislation remove references to domestic violent extremism and white supremacy.

But Democrats rejected Republican leaders’ demands that the commission’s investigative scope be broadened beyond the causes, events and implications of Jan. 6, arguing that their advocacy of a sweeping probe of both left- and right-wing anti-government extremism was an attempt to obfuscate the fact that the riot was spearheaded by Trump supporters.

That proposal died in the Senate, prompting Pelosi to push ahead with a separate House committee to contain seven Democrats and six Republicans. Pelosi appointed Cheney and Democrats Bennie G. Thompson (Miss.), Adam B. Schiff (Calif,), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Pete Aguilar (Calif.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Jamie B. Raskin (Md.) and Elaine Luria (Va.). Besides Jordan and Banks, McCarthy had recommended Republicans Rodney Davis (Ill.), Kelly Armstrong (N.D.) and Troy E. Nehls (Tex.).

Pelosi said she was ready to seat Davis, Armstrong and Nehls, telling reporters Wednesday that ­Nehls’s objection to certifying the election “was not my criteria” for seating members. Asked about the possibility of McCarthy pulling all Republicans, besides Cheney, from investigating, Pelosi said: “We have a bipartisan quorum. We can proceed.”

During a CNN town hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday evening, Biden expressed optimism that Americans could come together amid a divisive moment on Capitol Hill but strongly warned against Republicans who have played down the insurrection.

“I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated. The fact is, you can’t look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can’t listen to people who say this was a peaceful march,” he said.

In a news conference, McCarthy told reporters that the only way to reverse his decision to pull his five appointees would be if Pelosi allowed Banks and Jordan to remain on the committee. He said her unilateral overreach would leave a scar on the House’s integrity.

“Speaker Pelosi has taken the unprecedented step of denying the minority party’s picks for the select committee on January 6th. This represents something that has not happened in the House before,” McCarthy said. “House Democrats must answer this question: Why are you allowing a lame-duck speaker to destroy this institution? This is the people’s house, not Pelosi’s House.”

Banks, whom McCarthy appointed to serve as ranking Republican, echoed the GOP leader, arguing that “Pelosi has broken this institution” with “an egregious abuse of power.”

In a tweet late Wednesday, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) asked House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to call an emergency meeting so members could discuss Pelosi’s role in doling out assignments for the committee, including to Cheney. He suggested she should be removed from the Armed Services Committee, a threat McCarthy made earlier this month to any Republican who accepted an offer from Pelosi.

Cheney, however, agreed with Pelosi’s decision to remove Jordan and Banks, admonishing both of them and McCarthy for their “disingenuous” rhetoric.

“This investigation must go forward,” she said. “The idea that anybody would be playing politics with an attack on the United States Capitol is despicable and is disgraceful.”

Pressed on whether she believes McCarthy’s behavior is fit for the speakership — a position he hopes to occupy if Republicans win back the House — Cheney said: “I think that any person who would be third in line to the presidency must demonstrate a commitment to the Constitution and a commitment to the rule of law, and Minority Leader McCarthy has not done that.”

“At every opportunity, the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened — to block this investigation,” she said.

Democrats and Cheney are still preparing for their first hearing on Tuesday, which will focus on law enforcement’s experience on Jan. 6. Several Democratic members backed Pelosi’s decision, saying Jordan and Banks would only distract from the investigation. Democrats argue the committee is still bipartisan given Cheney’s seat on the panel.

“This has to be a sober inquiry. If their intention is to put disrupters on, like Jordan and Banks, that’s not productive either, and so we’ll go forward whether they appoint people or they don’t,” Schiff said. “I think whatever McCarthy does will be viewed as the inconsequential sideshow that it will be.”

McCarthy previously said that he had surveyed Republicans in his conference and chose Davis for having already investigated Jan. 6 as ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee. Nehls, a former sheriff from Texas, was the other Republican appointed to the committee who voted against certifying the election hours after he was seen trying to calm rioters outside the doors of the House chamber.

A senior Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss caucus deliberations, said many Democratic members were concerned about Banks and Jordan sitting on the committee based on their past actions and statements. Democrats expressed outrage with Banks’s statement in which he alleged that “the Left’s authoritarian agenda” politicized the committee’s scope. Reports that Jordan had aided Trump in strategizing about how to overturn the election — and the possibility that he would be called to testify before the committee because he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6 — also made him an unreliable panelist, according to the aide.

A House Democrat on the Jan. 6 committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss internal deliberations said they believed Pelosi would have been happy to appoint hardcore conservatives who were committed to defending Trump, but not Republicans who had actively played a role in spreading misinformation about the insurrection.

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who was picked by McCarthy to negotiate the terms of an independent commission earlier this year, said Wednesday that he would consider being a part of a GOP investigation into Jan. 6 but is opposed to being a part of “anything that’s political.”

Democrats said they intend to press ahead with the probe regardless of GOP involvement.

“At every point after the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol, Speaker Pelosi has met Republican leadership more than halfway to investigate the facts and circumstances of January 6th. . . . This is about the integrity of the investigation. Period,” Thompson, the chairman of the Jan. 6 and House Homeland Security committees, said in a statement. “It has been more than 6 months since the attack, we owe it to our democracy to stay the course and not be distracted by sideshows.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of members chosen for the Jan. 6 committee. There were to be seven Democrats and six Republicans. The article has been updated.