Now that the Jan. 6 committee has a few hearings under its belt, it’s fair to say the hype was justified: The panel’s bipartisan members promised to deliver the goods, and they’re doing exacty that.
As The Washington Post’s Max Boot noted in a recent column, “The committee’s hearings are exceeding expectations, because it is not behaving like a typical congressional committee. There is no grandstanding and no preening. There are no petty partisan squabbles. There is not even the disjointedness that normally occurs when a bunch of politicians are each given five minutes to question each witness.”
Boot added, “There is only the relentless march of evidence, all of it deeply incriminating to a certain former president who keeps insisting that he was robbed of his rightful election victory.”
But let’s not brush past the one person who inadvertently helped ensure that the investigation and its public presentations could proceed in such a constructive way. As E.J. Dionne explained in his new column:
In a perverse way, the country owes a debt to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). He made this refreshing presentation possible.... McCarthy thought that by walking away entirely, he would be able to discredit the work of the committee as “partisan.” Bad call. With none of his allies there to throw sand into the gears, the committee — which still included two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — was able to organize a seamless presentation.
Quite right. As we recently discussed, in April and May of last year, the House GOP leader dispatched a trusted ally, New York Rep. John Katko, to negotiate the terms of an independent commission to examine the Jan. 6 attack. As regular readers may recall, McCarthy made sure to include unreasonable demands he expected Democrats to reject.
When Democrats agreed to Republican’s terms anyway, McCarthy refused to take “yes” for an answer and rejected the compromise he’d asked for.
At that point, lawmakers moved on to Plan B: They’d create a bipartisan, special select committee to uncover the facts that McCarthy said he was eager to learn. As part of the process, GOP leaders were invited to recommend a slate of House Republicans to participate in the investigation, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the final call on whether or not they qualified.
McCarthy picked five members, two of whom were rejected for being anti-election radicals, though Pelosi was willing to accept the other three Republicans chosen for the panel. Outraged, McCarthy quickly announced a boycott of the committee.
Pelosi offered him an opportunity to have three far-right Republicans participate in this investigation. He instead chose to have zero.
As chess moves go, this didn’t exactly position the GOP for success. For one thing, the committee ended up being bipartisan anyway: Democrats extended invitations to Wyoming’s Liz Cheney and Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, both of whom agreed to serve, despite the ostracizing effects of their decision.
For another, McCarthy’s decision has left the rest of the Republican conference completely in the dark. Ahead of the hearings, the GOP didn't know what the committee had, couldn't prepare competent defenses for Trump, couldn’t influence the direction of the investigation, couldn’t ask contrary questions during public or private proceedings, couldn’t leak anything, and couldn’t dilute the panel’s findings in advance of a final report that’s expected in September.
A couple of months ago, a senior House GOP aide told NBC News, in reference to McCarthy’s boycott, “I would say it’s absolutely a strategic mistake.”
Such talk is growing louder. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman said last week that some Republicans are privately “angry” with McCarthy, “believing he walked away too soon.”
Yesterday, Donald Trump went considerably further. “Unfortunately, a bad decision was made,” the former president said during a radio interview. He added that it “was a bad decision not to have representation on that committee. That was a very, very foolish decision.”
In the same interview, Trump, looking ahead to the possibility of a House Republican majority, insisted that he hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race for Speaker.
McCarthy seemed to believe he was punishing House Democrats last year when he refused to participate in the process he previously supported. If he’d only thought ahead a bit more, the would-be House Speaker would’ve realized he was doing far more harm to his own interests.
When future books are written about consequential strategic failures in modern politics, McCarthy's failure will deserve its own chapter.
The House Jan. 6 committee is holding its fourth public hearing on Tuesday, June 21 at 1 p.m. ET. Get expert analysis in real-time on our liveblog at msnbc.com/jan6hearings.