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Robert A. George is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and member of the editorial board covering government and public policy. Previously, he was a member of the editorial boards of the New York Daily News and New York Post.
“Thank you for your service.” Most Americans use the phrase when they see a member of the military at the airport or in the supermarket. We should also now use it whenever we see Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
Not only did their presence on the Jan. 6 committee, which has delivered historic criminal referrals of a former president and released its final report, create a truly bipartisan panel. They also demonstrated a sense of integrity and self-sacrifice — both Republican House members surrendered their seats and likely any hope they might have had of ever seeking higher office — rarely seen in politics.
They remain limited-government, pro-life, pro-military conservatives. They also happen to oppose insurrection against the U.S. government. Their commitment to that principle has left them without a party.
The Republican Party officially censured Cheney and Kinzinger for serving on this committee. But the record shows that, unlike so many other GOP leaders — notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — they actually upheld their vows to the Constitution.
A brief history of the committee’s formation serves to illustrate the point. The initial idea — and the wisest one — was to create a nonpartisan panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission. McCarthy authorized U.S. Rep. John Katko of New York (a Republican who voted to impeach Donald Trump) to negotiate how the commission would be organized and operate. In May 2021, Katko announced an agreement that got everything that McCarthy wanted.
McCarthy then rejected this blueprint. The measure creating the panel still passed the House, even though McCarthy told his caucus to vote against it. In the Senate, McConnell didn’t call for Republicans to support the commission, even though months before he had called Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 riot. And so, on May 28, the measure died in the Senate.
That led to the House creating its own select committee to investigate the road to Jan. 6. Two of the five members McCarthy chose — Jim Jordan and Jim Banks — stated that they would attempt to focus the committee’s work on issues such as the Black Lives Matter protests. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that unacceptable and ruled the two out. Rather than propose alternates, McCarthy pulled all his Republican members. That left Pelosi to appoint Cheney and Kinzinger.
They had been two of 10 brave Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after Jan. 6 — in stark contrast to the leaders of their party. McCarthy, who publicly damned Trump in the hours after the uprising, voted against impeachment just one week later. McConnell, despite the stridency of his own criticism of Trump’s conduct, voted to acquit a month later. Had he voted to convict, he most likely would have brought along enough other Republicans to find Trump guilty and prevent him from ever running for office again.
In the subsequent weeks, as McCarthy rushed to Mar-a-Lago to make nice with the 45th president, Cheney, then the third-ranking House Republican, didn’t waver. She continued to condemn Trump — even as it cost her continued support from both rank-and-file members and party leaders.
The result, of course, is that Cheney lost not only her leadership post but also her House seat. Kinzinger, for his part, lost his seat more to partisan redistricting than to opposition from within the party. But Republicans who claim that either of them have acted out of an inflated sense of pride have to admit that sacrificing your career is a pretty high price to pay.
At least they got to be perhaps the most powerful members of a minority ever to serve on a congressional committee. Cheney was especially impressive, taking the lead in most hearings. Ironically, both members are leaving office just as more rank-and-file Republicans are coming to realize that Trump needs to be pushed aside.
Almost two full years after one of the most awful days in the history of the republic, the Jan. 6 committee has completed its work. Its criminal recommendations will likely be dismissed by many as partisan. Standing against that characterization are the prominent roles — and sacrifices — of Cheney and Kinzinger.