IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Following GOP filibuster, Dems have options for Jan. 6 investigation

Now that Senate Republicans have filibustered plans for a Jan. 6 commission, what happens? Congressional Democrats have a few options.
Image: Supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol's Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol's Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images file

The circumstances are difficult to believe, and even harder to defend. A violent, insurrectionist mob attacked our seat of government with the intention of derailing the certification of an American election. When Democrats called for an independent commission, Republicans made a series of unreasonable demands, which Democrats nevertheless accepted.

Republicans refused to take "yes" for an answer and killed the proposal anyway. It's hard to imagine any other advanced democracy on the planet where one of its major parties would choose such willful ignorance about a riot that unfolded in their own Capitol.

That said, while Friday's GOP filibuster may have derailed a legislative proposal, it did not end the broader discussion. There are still many questions about the attack that deserve answers, whether Republicans want to hear them or not.

So, what happens now? Congressional Democrats have a few options.

First, the Senate might try again. In fact, while the chamber is out this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to members on Friday, outlining some of his plans for June, and wrote, "Senators should rest assured that the events of January 6th will be investigated and that as Majority Leader, I reserve the right to force the Senate to vote on the bill again at the appropriate time."

The odds of success still aren't great -- finding 10 Senate Republicans willing to defy Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is nearly impossible -- but there are other avenues. In fact, one of them has already begun: House Democrats launched their own probe of the insurrectionist riot in March. The probe was initiated by seven committees -- Judiciary, Oversight, Armed Services, Administration, Appropriations, Homeland Security, and Intelligence -- and document requests have already been sent to 16 agencies across the federal government.

But there's another option that's likely to generate quite a bit of discussion. Vox explained over the weekend:

After hopes for a bipartisan January 6 commission went down in flames on Friday, Democrats may have a new plan to investigate the attack on the Capitol: A select House committee, which would not require Republican support to establish. Such a committee would differ from the proposed bipartisan commission in several key ways, but it could still take steps to ensure accountability for those involved in the insurrection.

If this sounds at all familiar, there's a good reason for that: after the 2012 attack against U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Libya, Congress launched six separate congressional investigations. When none produced evidence to bolster far-right conspiracy theories, House GOP leaders created a select committee to tell Republicans what they wanted to hear. (It ultimately failed, too.)

Such an approach could be effective in getting to the truth about the Jan. 6 attack. It would have subpoena power, a dedicated staff, and depending on its structure, no firm deadline. What's more, Democratic leaders would almost certainly ensure that such a panel have a Democratic chair, just as Republicans led their Obama-era Benghazi select committee.

Perhaps most importantly, a simple House majority could decide to create such a panel -- and there's nothing Senate Republicans could do about it.

On the flip side, the select committee would be comprised of sitting House members, and Republicans would be invited to name their own slate, even if they were in the minority. The odds of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) choosing members who'd make every possible effort to turn the investigation into a ridiculous circus would be 100%.

Alternatively, GOP leaders could simply refuse to name anyone to a select committee, which wouldn't derail its investigation, but which would make it appear more of a partisan exercise.

Watch this space.