On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., withdrew every Republican he nominated for the special select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. He said he was yanking his nominees because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had gone “further than anyone's gone before” in vetoing two of his picks for the panel, and he declared the entire effort to gather crucial information about that fateful day a politicized “sham.”
But McCarthy’s actions were the culmination of what was always a bad faith attempt to participate in the committee and one that was designed to try to flip the story of bipartisan norms on Democrats by manipulating credulous Beltway media.
There’s simply no point in this story at which McCarthy can be seen as seriously interested in either understanding the events of Jan. 6 or holding people accountable for them.
Back in May, he opposed the formation of a 9/11-style independent and bipartisan commission to investigate the storming of the Capitol. It should’ve been uncontroversial: It was brokered by a House GOP committee leader, took four months to put together and McCarthy's counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., initially signaled he was open to it.
But McCarthy rejected the commission, aligning with members of his party who openly confessed that any rehashing of the past would undermine Republicans’ fortunes in the 2022 midterm elections. At that point, he demonstrated very clearly that he — and many of his peers — valued partisan electoral gains more than protecting the legitimacy of the electoral process.
Now McCarthy is showing a similar disdain for the idea of seriously investigating Jan. 6 in his handling of the select committee in the House. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen explained, his picks revealed more of an intention to subvert the committee than to participate in it: All five nominees had voted against creating the very committee they had been nominated for; three had voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election after the storming of the Capitol; and out of those three, two of them — Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio — also signed a legal brief requesting that the Supreme Court reject the 2020 election results.
Those last two, Banks and Jordan, are the nominees Pelosi vetoed, in a break from tradition, in committee appointments. “In light of statements and actions taken by them, I could not appoint them,” she said at a news conference Thursday. “I said that while this may be unprecedented, so was an attack on the Capitol.”
McCarthy tried to seize upon Pelosi’s actions as proof that the committee was not a truly bipartisan effort and that she was trying to rig its findings. But his framing was an inversion of the truth: She had barred Banks and Jordan precisely because they had openly announced that they had ambitions of undermining the committee.
Banks and Jordan weren’t just predisposed to be hostile to the entire purpose of the committee — they signaled they would try to sabotage it. After being nominated by McCarthy, Banks released a head-spinning statement suggesting Black Lives Matter-associated protests and riots should fall within its scope. And Jordan, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump who participated in disinformation campaigns about the 2020 election, responded to his nomination by declaring it “impeachment round three,” suggesting he viewed it as a witch hunt to be dismissed like the Trump impeachment measure he voted against in January.
Unfortunately, some Beltway analysts have chosen to buy McCarthy’s framing by focusing on Pelosi’s unusual procedural move. But in the process, they’ve lost sight of the substantive problem, which is that Pelosi took extraordinary steps to try to protect the Jan. 6 inquiry, and the historical record, from an extraordinary threat: a set of politicians uninterested in preserving democracy and keen to pander to any pro-Trump sentiment in their base.
McCarthy’s withdrawal leaves just one Republican on the committee: Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, whom Pelosi had nominated. While the committee has no hopes of being bipartisan, there is now a far greater chance it can get some real work done in digging up crucial information about Jan. 6.