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Image: Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 4, 2021.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

Despite Dem compromises, GOP's McCarthy rejects Jan. 6 commission

One of Kevin McCarthy's own members negotiated a bipartisan deal on a Jan. 6 commission. McCarthy wants to kill it anyway. It's worth understanding why.


It wasn't long after January's deadly insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol when an obvious idea took hold: policymakers needed an independent commission, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission, to determine what happened and why.

As we've discussed, in theory, this seemed like a no-brainer. Even now, months after the assault, there's no shortage of questions in need of answers and an independent panel could both fill in the gaps and make policy recommendations to prevent related violence in the future. National polling showed fairly strong support for the idea.

But in practice, putting the pieces together has proven nearly impossible. Late last week, a bipartisan agreement appeared to take shape, but this morning, ahead of tomorrow's vote in the House on the creation of the independent panel, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) rejected the bipartisan deal.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Tuesday voiced opposition to legislation to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In a lengthy statement a day before the House is set to vote on the measure, McCarthy said that Democrats didn't negotiate fairly with Republicans and argued that multiple investigations into the riot already exist.

It's important to realize that Democrats already made a series of concessions in the hopes of striking a fair compromise. Republicans demanded an equal partisan split on the commission, and Democratic leaders agree. Republicans demanded influence over the panel's subpoena power, and Democratic leaders acquiesced on this, too.

But for McCarthy, it wasn't enough.

Before considering the bigger picture, let's not brush past the fact that McCarthy, with this morning's statement, just threw one of his own members under the bus. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a close McCarthy ally and a member of the House GOP leadership's whip team, took the lead in negotiating a bipartisan deal with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). According to Politico, it was McCarthy who specifically asked Katko to work on this, and the New Yorker was in communication with McCarthy's office during the talks.

Four days ago, Katko completed the assigned task, and by all appearances, he was pleased to have secured so many concessions from Democrats.

But McCarthy nevertheless rejected the agreement reached by his own ally. The minority leader struggled to come up with a clear explanation for why he wouldn't take "yes" for an answer.

McCarthy argued in his written statement, for example, that Democratic leaders "refused to negotiate in good faith," which is hilarious given that Dems were the ones making all the concessions. The House GOP leader also dismissed the need for such a commission, calling it "duplicative," which is amazing coming from a guy who supported having 10 different examinations of Benghazi conspiracy theories -- including six separate probes launched by House Republicans.

And McCarthy also insisted that the commission designed to scrutinize the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol should not focus entirely on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but instead focus on unrelated violence that the right finds more interesting.

As regular readers know, such a push falls outside the historical norm. When Congress created the 9/11 Commission, no one in positions of authority asked, "But what about other terrorist attacks?" When Congress created a Watergate commission, no one argued, "Should the panel investigate other politicians' scandals, too?" When Congress created a commission to examine the JFK assassination, few thought to ask, "Why focus on just one murder?"

House Democrats will almost certainly approve the creation of a commission tomorrow anyway, but the measure will then head to the Senate, where a Republican filibuster is likely to kill it.

As for why McCarthy feels the need to reject a bipartisan plan negotiated by one of his GOP allies, there are three key angles to this.

First, Donald Trump doesn't want there to be a commission, and McCarthy still seems eager to do the former president's bidding.

Second, McCarthy has important insights into exactly what transpired during the riot, which means the minority leader would almost certainly be subpoenaed as a witness. The more he can do to ensure the commission doesn't exist, the less likely it will be that he'll have to answer uncomfortable questions.

And third, Republican orthodoxy on the Capitol attack has changed in rather twisted ways of late. While there was an apparent consensus on the riot in its immediate aftermath, some in the GOP have begun arguing publicly that the insurrectionist rioters were little more than harmless and patriotic tourists.

A commission would expose the truth about the assault on our seat of government, and that truth would very likely create political problems for the most radicalized elements of the Republican Party's base.

Indeed, a detailed investigation may even cause problems for some in the House GOP conference on Capitol Hill. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), after her ouster from her party's leadership team, told NBC News last week that a detailed review of the Jan. 6 violence "threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing."

If an independent investigation might uncover inconvenient facts, House Republican leaders appear to have determined that there should be no independent investigation.

Kevin McCarthy was never going to accept a Jan. 6 commission. He could've saved everyone a lot of trouble if he'd just admitted that from the outset.