House Democrats and Republicans reach deal on commission to investigate Capitol attack
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WASHINGTON - A group of House Democrats and Republicans announced Friday that they had struck a deal to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, a significant breakthrough after months of partisan standoff over the mandate for such a panel - and whether it should exist at all.
The proposed 10-person commission, which emulates the panel that investigated the causes and lessons of 9/11 terrorist attacks, would be charged with studying the events and run-up to January 6 with a focus on why an estimated 10,000 supporters of former president Donald Trump swarmed the Capitol grounds and, more importantly, what factors instigated about 800 of them to break inside.
"There has been a growing consensus that the January 6th attack is of a complexity and national significance that what we need an independent commission to investigate," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, announcing that he had struck a deal with the panel's top Republican, Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y.
"The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the US Capitol."
The legislation must still be voted on, first by the House and then by the Senate before it is sent to the White House for final approval. Thompson said the legislation would likely be considered by the House next week, but it is unclear when the Senate might take up the bill.
While Democrats and some Republicans cheered the announcement, GOP leaders remained dismissive, arguing that a commission had to be tasked with investigating more than just the insurrection if its intention was truly to make the Capitol and its people safer.
"If this commission is going to come forward to tell us how to protect this facility in the future, you want to make sure that the scope that you can look at all that what came up before and what came up after. So that's very concerning to me," House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters shortly after Friday's announcement.
"Nancy Pelosi has played politics with this for a number of months. You've got to look at what the build up before and what has been going on after this."
Earlier negotiations between House Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., and congressional GOP leaders broke down when Republicans demanded that the panel look into far-left radicalism as well as the right-wing and white nationalist groups that promoted and populated the rally Trump held outside the White House on Jan. 6 and subsequent march on the Capitol.
They also objected that Democrats had sought to grant themselves more power to appoint panel members than the minority Republican Party - a point Pelosi had said she would be open to change.
In the bipartisan deal announced Friday, five members would be appointed by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, while the other five would appointed by their Republican counterparts. In a departure from Pelosi's earlier proposal, President Biden would not have a say in appointing any commissioners.
The commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses, but not without an agreement between the Democrat-appointed chair and the Republican appointed vice chair, or a majority vote of the panel.
Current government officials, including those holding elected office, would not be allowed to serve on the panel, to maintain its independence.
The commission would be tasked with producing a final report detailing its findings, as well as any recommendations for preventing similar attacks in the future, by the end of this year, giving it only about six months - if Congress approves the commission in short order - to complete its work. By comparison, the 9/11 Commission took20 months to publish its findings.
In his announcement, Thompson predicted that legislation would be on the House floor as soon as next week. While it is almost certain to gain majority support from the Democratic-led House, Republicans will have to decide whether to side moderates like Katko, who struck the deal, or GOP leaders who continue to look sneeringly on the product.
Just this week, House Republicans ousted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from the No. 3 spot in their leadership ranks, over her public campaign to hold Trump accountable for promoting "the Big Lie" that President Joe Biden stole the election from him.
On Friday, just moments before Thompson and Katko announced their breakthrough on the commission, the GOP conference voted to replace Cheney with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who has a more moderate voting record but has been vocal in her support for Trump and his spurious claims that widespread voter fraud marred November's election.
Even in his post-presidency, Trump has continued to feed his supporters misinformation suggesting Biden's win is illegitimate.
Cheney told reporters Friday she thought "it's great the Speaker has announced the January 6 commission and I hope we'll be able to really have the kind of investigation we need about what happened."
Cheney and Katko are two of 10 House Republicans who voted with Democrats in February to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection against Congress, as it worked to tally the electoral college results.
About two hours after Thompson and Katko's announcement, House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., released the text of a $2 billion supplemental appropriations package to pay for security improvements to the Capitol.