It was just two days ago when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he and his Republican members were "undecided" on a bipartisan proposal to create a Jan. 6 commission. A day later, the GOP leader pulled the rug out beneath those who believed him: McConnell announced his opposition to the proposal, relying on "a baldfaced lie" in the process.
This touched off a new partisan effort to justify the party's plan to kill the commission. Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), the #2 GOP leader in the chamber, made a striking pitch to CNN yesterday afternoon.
"I want our midterm message to be on the kinds of things that the American people are dealing with: That's jobs and wages and the economy and national security, safe streets and strong borders -- not relitigating the 2020 elections," Thune told CNN. "A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward. Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections I think is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us the Democrats' very radical left-wing agenda."
There are four main problems with this, one of which may not be as obvious as the other three.
Right off the bat, it's worth appreciating the absurdity of a Republican leader saying his party is focused on "moving forward" when Donald Trump issues declarations, on a nearly daily basis, lying about his 2020 defeat. He's not alone: Arizona Republicans are moving forward with their utterly bonkers election "audit," and GOP officials elsewhere are desperate to follow suit with the former president's encouragement.
Just as importantly, whether Thune realizes this or not, at issue is an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, not an independent commission to "rehash the 2020 elections." The insurrectionist riot may have been related to the election -- the violent attackers intended to, among other things, prevent the certification of an Americans' choice for president -- but to characterize the riot and the election as being one and the same is terribly irresponsible, especially for someone in Thune's position.
Third, it was hard not to laugh at the South Dakota senator's suggestion that Congress should look past the riot and focus on policy disputes. Putting aside the simple fact that an independent commission could investigate the attack without interfering with lawmakers' legislative plans, the truth remains that Republicans clearly aren't interested in compromising and legislating with the Democratic majority in anyway.
Thune is effectively saying, "We should ignore the Capitol attack and focus on substantive proposals, which we'll also oppose."
Finally, let's not brush past the underlying point the Senate minority whip acknowledged with unexpected candor: Thune's priority isn't learning the truth about the attack on our seat of government; his priority is "our midterm message."
Our democracy may have suffered an unprecedented assault; there may be all kinds of unanswered questions about what happened and why; and an independent commission would be in a position to offer policymakers important guidance on how best to prevent future violence.
But John Thune has midterm messaging on his mind, and that, evidently, matters more.