The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday that would create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, much like the commission Congress created after the 9/11 attacks. Now it falls to the U.S. Senate to pass this bill and demonstrate that the pursuit of truth matters more than political pressure.
Thirty-five Republican House members joined with Democrats on Wednesday to support the creation of this commission. At least 10 Republican senators have to do the same if this bill is to become law.
Nearly three dozen Republican representatives were able to see through the posturing and pressure from their own party leadership, including former President Donald Trump, and recognize the value of having an independent review of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. We have to hope that 10 of their colleagues in the Senate can reach the same reasonable conclusion.
The need for this independent, bipartisan review has been evident for quite some time. Republicans in both the House and Senate have acknowledged the potential benefits. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, even floated the idea of a bipartisan commission as an alternative to the impeachment of Trump in January. But months later, in a world where consistent politicians are rarer than courteous Massachusetts drivers, McCarthy opposed the compromise commission bill crafted by his own negotiator.
McCarthy tasked Rep. John Katko, a Republican from New York, with negotiating a possible commission agreement after Republicans panned an initial proposal from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. As we’ve said before, Pelosi’s initial offer was not a good or balanced start. But Katko and Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, put in the hard work to produce balanced legislation that hews closely to the 9/11 Commission framework.
Unlike in Pelosi’s bill, the Jan. 6 commission would be made up equally of five members appointed by Republicans and five appointed by Democrats. Subpoenas issued by the commission would need bipartisan support. The chair would be chosen by Democratic leaders and the vice chair would be chosen by Republican leaders.
The 9/11 Commission had a Republican-appointed chair because then-President George W. Bush was charged with selecting that position, and Democrats selected the vice chair. The Jan. 6 bill is slightly different in that Democratic leaders in Congress would select the chair rather than President Joe Biden, but either way, that role would be chosen by Democrats. The 9/11 Commission produced balanced work with a Republican chair and a Democratic vice chair. The same can be true for a commission with a Democratic chair and a Republican vice chair.
“This legislation is modeled directly on the legislation that created the 9/11 Comission. I sincerely believe that this commission, with strong support from this body, will embark on an objective, non-partisan search for answers and solutions, just as the 9/11 Commission did,” Katko said on the House floor.
The careful push to follow the 9/11 Commission model and build bipartisanship into the potential Jan. 6 commission’s work has won the support of the 9/11 Commission chair and vice chair. But it has not stopped Republican leadership from insisting that the scope of this review be expanded to include other instances of political violence.
This is like objecting to the idea of sending astronauts to Mars because the mission wouldn’t include all the other planets in the solar system. It’s like insisting that a pizza place also sell you lobster rolls because both items are food. It’s a false equivalence and a distraction. Of course a Jan. 6 commission should focus on Jan. 6.
Now, it’s not just members of Republican leadership who are raising concerns. More moderate Senate Republicans, like Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, are also calling for changes to the House bill even as they continue to support the idea of a commission generally.
“There are still many unanswered questions about the violence that occurred at the Capitol on January 6th. To examine the events leading up to the attack, find out exactly what happened, and learn lessons for the future, I support the creation of a commission along the lines of the 9/11 Commission that was headed by former congressman Lee Hamilton and former governor Tom Kean,” Collins said in a statement on Wednesday. “The House bill should be modified to follow the 9/11 Commission’s non-partisan, independent investigation as closely as possible and also should be staffed by experienced personnel chosen by both the Chairman and Vice Chairman.”
Collins and Romney (two of the seven Senate Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in February) have both pointed to the matter of staffing. The House bill would have the commission chairperson hire staff “in consultation with the vice chairperson, in accordance with rules agreed upon by the commission.” Romney has gone as far as calling the question of staffing a potential “nonstarter.”
But here’s the thing: that language about the commission staff is straight from the bill that created the 9/11 Commission. So if Republican senators want a Jan. 6 review to follow the 9/11 Commission framework, the bill passed by the House already accomplishes that. And if they want to amend and tighten this language to feel even more confident this will be a nonpartisan process, that’s fine too. But it shouldn’t be a barrier to passing this carefully crafted, bipartisan legislation.