After acknowledging that then-President Trump bore responsibility for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by his supporters, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy soon reverted to the apparently more comfortable role of Trump acolyte and apologist.
Now the Bakersfield Republican is refusing to endorse a bipartisan proposal to create an independent commission to investigate the assault on the Capitol. Never mind that the legislation agreed to by Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee gives the two parties an equal role in appointing members to the panel, or that Democrats gave Republicans much of what they sought in the bill.
It always made sense to have an independent body investigate the assault on the Capitol, its origins and its aftermath, and to give that body subpoena power to help it unearth the facts. But such an investigation is even more urgent now that some Republican members of Congress have attempted to rewrite history. For example, Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) made the ridiculous assertions at a hearing last week that the siege of the Capitol “was not an insurrection” and that some who entered the Capitol appeared to be on a “normal tourist visit.”
In explaining his opposition to the proposed legislation, McCarthy offered a grab bag of unconvincing arguments. He complained about “political games” by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), suggested that a commission would duplicate investigations being conducted by congressional committees and warned that its probe might somehow interfere with criminal prosecutions.
But McCarthy’s most revealing argument is his claim that the proposal for a Jan. 6 commission “ignores the political violence that has struck American cities, a Republican congressional baseball practice, and, most recently, the deadly attack on Capitol Police on April 2, 2021.”
This is not a new talking point for McCarthy — he made similar comments in April — but it’s cynical whataboutism. None of the events he mentioned are remotely comparable to an assault on the Capitol seeking to reverse the results of a presidential election.
The best refutation of this argument was offered by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) before she was ousted from the House Republican leadership for calling out Trump’s Big Lie about a stolen election. Although Cheney said she was concerned about last year's unrest, she said: “What happened on Jan. 6 is unprecedented in our history, and I think that it's very important that the commission be able to focus on that.”
The Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve the creation of the commission despite McCarthy's opposition. The real test will then come in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said that he's open to a commission but wants to review the "fine print." If he and his colleagues follow McCarthy’s lead, they will be shirking their responsibility to ensure that a unique assault on American democracy is aggressively and independently investigated. And that choice will stain their reputations.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.