MAY 18, 2021
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday announced his opposition to a bill that would establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection — rejecting a proposal brokered in part by a member of his own conference and deepening divisions within the House GOP.
In a lengthy statement, the Republican leader said he could not support the compromise reached in recent days by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), a McCarthy ally who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting the attack on the Capitol.
“Given the political misdirection that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” McCarthy said.
Responding to McCarthy’s announcement, Katko — the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee — defended the bill he negotiated with the committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), as “a solid, fair agreement that is a dramatic improvement over previous proposals that sought to politicize a security review of the Capitol.” Katko acknowledged “differing views” on the scope of that review, however.
The announcement by McCarthy represents the most recent high-profile, Trump-related fissure to emerge among House Republicans, after Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was purged from House leadership last week for her refusal to promote the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen.
While House GOP leaders are not formally whipping for or against the commission, McCarthy’s public stance could sway members who are on the fence about whether to support the proposal. Both he and Katko explained their positions to their colleagues during a House GOP conference meeting on Tuesday morning, according to sources in the room.
But speaking after the closed-door meeting, Katko predicted a “healthy” number of Republicans would still back the legislation and said he “appreciates” how McCarthy has handled the situation.
McCarthy also suggested there are no hard feelings between the two men, telling POLITICO: “Katko has worked hard to improve the bill. It’s just not there yet.”
Cheney was replaced as House GOP conference chair by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who was criticized by some Republicans as insufficiently conservative but remains widely viewed as a fierce defender of the former president.
The Jan. 6 commission had also become a point of friction between McCarthy and Cheney in the weeks before her ouster, with McCarthy demanding that such a panel examine acts of looting and violence that accompanied some protests last summer against police brutality and racial injustice. Cheney, however, sought to have the commission probe solely the Capitol siege.
If impaneled, the Jan. 6 commission could potentially force testimony from McCarthy, who reportedly had a heated phone call with Trump as the insurrection was unfolding and may be able to speak to the former president’s state of mind amid the attack.
McCarthy reiterated that his chief concern is the scope of the panel — not its subpoena power. “I don’t care about the subpoenas,” McCarthy told POLITICO.
But Senate Republicans have indicated they may not support the investigative panel, casting doubt on the legislation’s prospects after its likely House passage on Wednesday.
Less than two hours after McCarthy’s announcement that he would oppose the bill, the White House released its own statement on Tuesday morning expressing its approval of the legislation by Katko and Thompson.
President Joe Biden’s administration “supports the proposed bipartisan, independent National Commission to study and investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol,” the White House said. “The Nation deserves such a full and fair accounting to prevent future violence and strengthen the security and resilience of our democratic institutions.”
Democrats and even some Republicans have suggested that GOP lawmakers are apprehensive about the commission because they’re worried it will be weaponized against Trump and his party.
“I sense resistance on it,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who supports the commission. “But we shouldn’t have any hesitancy to put a spotlight on [Jan. 6], because we don’t want that to ever happen again. … We shouldn’t feel defensive.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “disappointing but not surprising” to see the “cowardice on the part of some on the Republican side” who, as she put it, don’t “want to find the truth.”
And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday he would “presume Trump doesn’t want this to happen,” though he was confident the legislation would still garner Republican support. The measure is still set to come to the House floor on Wednesday. The House is also expected to vote Thursday on a $1.9 billion emergency funding bill to address Capitol security.