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Democrats rally around Pelosi as GOP threatens payback for snub in Jan. 6 probe

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) conducts a news conference on Thursday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) conducts a news conference on Thursday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow House Democrats on Thursday defended her unprecedented move to reject GOP appointments to a panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, while Republicans warned that the move would prompt retaliation and send Congress further down a partisan spiral.

Pelosi’s decision this week to sideline Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) — both ardent defenders of former president Donald Trump — prompted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to lash out at Pelosi and withdraw all five of his designees from the investigative committee.

But Pelosi’s move won strong backing from House Democrats, many of whom remain disturbed and angry about the violent incursion of Trump supporters into the Capitol. The upheaval of congressional norms, several said Thursday, was outweighed by the risk of giving Republicans an official platform to distort, minimize and deflect a focused inquiry into the causes of the riot.

“This was an assault on the fabric of, the hallmark of our democracy, which is the transfer of power, and the fact that they aren’t treating it seriously really, really is upsetting to me and a lot of members,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), one of the Democrats serving on the panel. “We want people who are going to have allegiance to the oath of office that they took, not an allegiance to one person. And they’ve clearly pledged their allegiance to the former president.”

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

Pressed by reporters Thursday on why she targeted Banks and Jordan, Pelosi said the two “made statements and took actions that just made it ridiculous” to seat them. She noted that she has agreed to seat other Republicans who voted to reject electoral votes cast in the 2020 election.

“It is my responsibility as speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this, and we will not let their antics stand in the way of that,” she said.

McCarthy on Thursday lashed out anew at what he called a “sham committee” and said Pelosi’s decision to reject his designees “puts a great deal of doubt” on any findings the committee might make: “The idea that she’s going to pick and choose, you’re not going to get an outcome.”

Some of his deputies, meanwhile, openly contemplated how Democrats might pay a price with their own committee assignments when Republicans regain the majority.

“There will be a strong appetite for revenge when we’re in the majority next time, and there will certainly be discussions in our conference whether we do it or not,” said Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, a junior member of the GOP leadership who personally opposes retaliation. “Banks and Jordan are a lot of things, but they are serious legislators and they would have taken this very seriously.”

Democrats — as well as Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), an anti-Trump Republican selected by Pelosi — said the speaker was more than justified in rejecting Banks and Jordan, while allowing three other McCarthy designees — Reps. Kelly Armstrong (N.D.), Rodney Davis (Ill.) and Troy E. Nehls (Tex.) — to serve.

“There’s a certain conduct and respectability that we’ve been able to maintain,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who is leading the inquiry. “Some of them don’t have exactly a reputation for civility and decorum.”

Said Aguilar: “We take a look at other people’s social media and what they say and how they conduct themselves. . . . It should be a baseline that people understand that this was a free and fair election and Joe Biden is the rightful president, and it’s unfortunate that Kevin McCarthy appointed people who don’t believe in that.”

Jordan, 57, is in his eighth term representing a rural northwestern Ohio district, and he has been at the vanguard of the GOP’s embrace of hard-line conservatism and, more recently, Trump.

He was among the first Republicans to cast doubt on Biden’s victories in swing states — starting with an appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Pennsylvania two days after the election. While he has decried the Capitol violence and condemned the rioters as criminals, he has refused to say that Trump or other Republicans bear any responsibility.

Several Republicans who oppose Jan. 6 commission are potential witnesses about Trump’s conduct that day

Jordan is also a skilled partisan brawler, having served on the GOP-created select committee formed to examine the 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, and led the GOP opposition to both of Trump’s impeachments.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) on Thursday called Jordan a “potential witness” because of his close relationship with Trump and his role in organizing GOP support for challenging electoral votes for Biden ahead of the Jan. 6 joint session.

“A lot of the investigation is going to look at: What was Trump’s intent? What was the planning? What did he know about who was going to be there?” he said. “If Jordan was in those meetings, now he’s conflicted.”

Banks, 42, is a relative newcomer to the Republican ranks — first winning election in 2016 — but he has moved rapidly into prominence. A former Naval Reserve officer who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Banks won election last year as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, an influential conservative policy group, and helped lead the effort to expel Cheney as GOP conference chairwoman after she voted to impeach Trump this year.

Multiple Democrats said Thursday they were disturbed by a CNN report that an alleged Capitol rioter, Anthony Aguero, accompanied an RSC-sponsored trip that Banks led to the U.S.-Mexico border in May and served as an informal interpreter. Banks has denied inviting Aguero or meeting with him during the trip.

One member familiar with the internal deliberations said Pelosi and other leaders were also swayed by the statement Banks issued after being tapped by McCarthy to lead the panel’s GOP contingent. He indicated that he would push to investigate other episodes of political violence, including the street riots seen last year after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and accused Pelosi of seeking to “malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Pelosi herself on Thursday pointed to a line in Banks’s statement indicating that he would “do everything possible to give the American people the facts about the lead up to January 6, the riot that day, and the responses from Capitol leadership and the Biden administration.”

“There was no Biden administration on January 6th,” Pelosi said. “But let’s not go into that.”

Capitol Police had intelligence indicating an armed invasion weeks before Jan. 6 riot, Senate probe finds

Addressing reporters on Wednesday, both Banks and Jordan accused Democrats of seeking to distract from their own political problems, such as rising crime and inflation, while also suggesting that Pelosi and the Democrats bore responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack by “normalizing” mob violence.

“I don’t think they’re going to address the fundamental question. . . . Why wasn’t there a proper security presence at the Capitol that day?” Jordan said. “Only one person can answer that question — only one: the speaker of the United States House of Representatives.”

While the House speaker occupies a special role as the highest constitutional officer of the legislative branch, in practice, the responsibility for Capitol security is shared with the Senate majority leader — on Jan. 6, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — and is largely delegated to the two sergeants-at-arms for the House and Senate. Those officials, in turn, provide shared oversight of the Capitol Police.

A bipartisan Senate report released last month documented multiple security failures on the part of the sergeants-at-arms and Capitol Police brass. It did not blame Pelosi or McConnell.

“People breaking into the Capitol, assaulting Capitol police and what have you — that’s a serious, serious endeavor, and try to somehow say it was the speaker’s fault or that Joe Biden was responsible, I mean, that is just totally off base,” Thompson said.

The select committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing Tuesday, featuring Capitol Police and D.C. police officers who responded on Jan. 6. Further hearings are certain to follow, and Thompson has not ruled out calling Republican members of Congress — or Trump — to testify.

Among the potential Republican members who could be called as witnesses are McCarthy and Jordan, who spoke to Trump during the riot, as well as Rep. Greg Pence (Ind.), who spent much of the day under Secret Service protection with his brother, former vice president Mike Pence.

While Pelosi did not rule out naming additional GOP members to the panel — such as anti-Trump Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — Thompson said he was prepared to move forward with the members Pelosi has already named. He named David Buckley, a former CIA inspector general, as the panel’s top staffer on Thursday, and told reporters that Republicans could be added to the staff as soon as this weekend. While Thompson would not comment on potential hires, former GOP congressman Denver Riggleman of Virginia met with Thompson’s staff on Thursday.

Pelosi’s move against Banks and Jordan was the second time House precedents have been upended in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack. In February, lawmakers voted largely along party lines to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of her committee assignments after a string of inflammatory comments.

Republicans warned that Democrats were inviting retribution as soon as the majority changes hands, which could come as soon as January 2023. Already, multiple GOP lawmakers said, members are quietly discussing which Democrats might be jettisoned from their committee posts — with Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Adam B. Schiff (Calif.) and Swalwell seen as prime targets.

“There’s going to be a bit of a ‘turnabout is fair play,’ ” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who supported the bipartisan commission but opposed the select committee. “What they’re doing is they’re laying the seeds for very unpleasant behavior in about a year and a half. And I don’t think it’s right; it’s not good for the institution.”

Asked about the prospects for retaliation and the further deterioration of interparty relations, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “I don’t think it could get much worse.”

“They can threaten us, but they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do anyway,” he said. “Why? Because they’re a party led by Donald Trump.”

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