Republicans in Congress: Hearings? What Hearings?

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Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

The sixth and latest hearing from the House’s Jan. 6 Committee was, undoubtedly, its biggest blockbuster yet.

But where one audience saw a Watergate-level historic event in former Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, another key audience likely saw... nothing.

Amid the cable TV and social media frenzy that unfolded before, during, and after Hutchinson’s testimony, Republican members of Congress were largely silent. One reason why is hardly a secret: When it comes to Jan. 6, silence has always been the safest political option for the vast majority of Republicans.

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Another reason, though, has been less explored. GOP lawmakers have not really been paying close attention to the hearings, if they’ve been paying attention at all.

Over the first two weeks of the select committee’s public hearings, The Daily Beast asked a dozen Republican congressmen and senators—staunch Trump critics, MAGA faithful, and those somewhere in between—if they had been watching any of the proceedings.

The majority of these lawmakers said they had, at least, seen video highlights of the hearings or read articles recapping them. Some had even watched the committee’s first hearing in full.

But only a minority of the dozen seemed up-to-date with the committee’s findings or professed more than a passing interest in them. Meanwhile, four of the 12 Republicans claimed they had not seen even a clip or recap of the hearings.

These interviews were conducted before the committee held its hearing with Hutchinson, however, and it’s probable that the most salacious revelations from that hearing broke through to GOP lawmakers.

But if they did, the social media feeds of Republicans and their official statements did not show it.

By Tuesday’s hearing—which was only scheduled the day before—prying reporters couldn’t press lawmakers in person, with both chambers of Congress far away from Capitol Hill for the annual Fourth of July recess.

The initial responses from Republican lawmakers, even those who had been paying some attention to the hearings, suggests they largely had already written off their impact.

“I don’t get asked about it at all. I just don’t,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), who watched the first hearing, echoing a point nearly all Republicans made. “People care about $5 gas and what we’re doing moving forward.”

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If public polls are any indication, voters certainly do care about those things, and Republicans have made a clear bet that voters’ concerns about the economy and other issues will drown out the work of the Jan. 6 committee.

The committee’s explosive hearings, however, are making Republicans’ act of turning the other way more difficult than they perhaps expected. Even before Tuesday’s hearing, several Republicans had conceded to The Daily Beast that the made-for-TV events weren’t just well-packaged; they might actually be having some impact on Trump’s reputation.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) called the first hearing “well-produced” and “a very well-organized effort.” Alluding to the committee’s hiring of a TV producer to advise their work, Rounds said, “clearly, they had some professional help in terms of keeping everybody on time and laying out a path forward.”

Asked if the hearings were damaging Trump’s reputation, Rounds was quick to answer. “Oh, I think the vast majority of Americans have already made up their mind as to how they view most previous presidents,” he said. “Including the last one.”

But it might be a different story with Republican politicians. After Jan. 6, some broke with Trump for good, some criticized him and backtracked, others stayed silent or cheered even louder for him. They remain an important audience for these hearings, which could easily become fodder in a contested 2024 GOP primary in the event that Trump faces competition in an expected third bid for the White House.

“I don’t imagine it helps,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) said of the committee hearings’ impact on Trump. “How much it’s marginally going to hurt, I guess, remains to be seen.”

In another way, the committee has been unafraid to embark on a path that could make their work very hard for Republican lawmakers to ignore—in that their findings are increasingly implicating the lawmakers themselves.

Those congressional Republicans who were closest to the effort to keep Trump in office are, of course, his most devoted allies. They were always unlikely to be eager consumers of the wall-to-wall coverage of the committee hearings. Instead, they have become bit players, adding an unusual dimension to their professed ignorance of the proceedings.

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For instance, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a far-right Trump devotee, told The Daily Beast last Wednesday that he had not been watching the hearings. “I’ve looked for things that are more fair-minded,” he said.

But during the committee’s hearing the next day, Hutchinson was shown in a deposition naming Gohmert as one of the six GOP lawmakers who sought a pardon after their efforts to block the peaceful transition of power ahead of Jan. 6.

A broader number of GOP lawmakers have some direct knowledge of Trump’s plans and state of mind on Jan. 6. Some of them—such as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—were subpoenaed by the committee for testimony.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has a unique vantage point on Jan. 6: that day, just his third day in office, he got a call from Trump himself, urging him to delay the Senate vote to certify the presidential election results.

It was at that moment that the pro-Trump mob closed in on the Senate floor, with law enforcement whisking them, along with Vice President Mike Pence, away from the chamber. Tuberville later said publicly he told Trump on the phone that Pence was being removed for his safety, a detail that served as an early proof point that the ex-president was aware of the danger Pence was in.

When asked by The Daily Beast if he was watching any of the hearings shedding light on that day, Tuberville demurred. “I try not to watch all that stuff,” he said. Pressed on why, the Alabama senator responded: “not much interest.”

“I’ve heard some talk about it, but we’ve been a little bit busy up here,” he said. “I’ll have interest at the end, what they come up with their conclusion, but to me that’s a long trial, is what it is.”

Although a majority of Republicans asked by The Daily Beast said they had watched only a little of the proceedings, that was enough for several to form some sharp criticisms.

While Republican lawmakers were willing to admit to some of the committee’s successes, that tepid praise was always backhanded, paired with one or more arguments as to why their presentations would not have a broader political impact.

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One commonly cited argument was that the committee was not revealing but instead repackaging previously reported information—an argument that would be hard to make after Hutchinson’s testimony.

Before that hearing, the panel had relied on videos, images, and details that were already uncovered by congressional investigators and the press. Their exclusive interviews with key players in Trump’s orbit, many shown on video to the world, have added more details, big and small, to the known story of Jan. 6.

Some Republicans were still not impressed. “In terms of images and things that they’ve discussed, have you heard of many new things?” Braun, the Indiana Republican, asked. When a reporter said yes, Braun responded, “but not something that was, ‘wow.’”

While he had not noticed “a whole lot of new facts,” Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) did argue “it has been, I think, interesting to see new witnesses testifying to facts that were already on record. There are no doubt some additional facts that were developed.”

“I hope that some good can come out of this hearing, that some new information becomes understood by more Americans,” said Young, who has been keeping a close eye on the hearings. “I suspect we'll have some of that.”

The other most frequently cited concern from Republicans was the partisan structure of the committee.

One of the most centrist House Republicans, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), said that a cloud is hanging over the hearings because the body investigating Jan. 6 is not a bipartisan independent commission, which was the preference of Fitzpatrick and most Democrats.

A bipartisan bill to create a commission failed in 2021 after McCarthy came out against the idea and GOP support tanked the legislation. “House leadership missed a real opportunity to not model it after the 9/11 commission,” said Fitzpatrick, avoiding any mention of which party deserves the blame.

But Fitzpatrick was still quick to say that “everybody should be watching” the hearings. “There are some very troubling things that have been revealed there,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of the most conservative House Republicans, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), blamed Democrats for allegedly silencing Republicans, who have no pro-Trump representative on the panel.

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“When you destroy the adversarial process, and you eliminate cross-examination, then you leave a sort of cloud of question and politicization of the process over a proceeding,” said Roy.

But Republicans arguably silenced themselves. After Pelosi moved to create a select committee last year, McCarthy nominated election deniers like Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Jim Jordan (R-OH)—who is also, it turns out, a material witness—to the panel. When Pelosi rejected them, McCarthy decided to withdraw the participation of all Republicans from the panel entirely.

Pelosi then appointed Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to the committee, knowing they’d largely go along with Democrats on the panel because they voted to impeach Trump over his Jan. 6 actions.

The GOP’s decision to deprive themselves of the ability to disrupt the committee’s proceedings is now seen as horribly short-sighted—including by Trump himself, who has reportedly wished his defenders could be around to disrupt the committee’s proceedings.

Despite his criticisms, Roy said he has watched a bit of the hearings. The Texas lawmaker is unusual among hard-right Republicans in that, when no evidence of election fraud materialized, he urged the Trump White House to back down and begin the transfer of power to Biden.

When the Capitol was being stormed on Jan. 6, Roy texted Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, “Fix this now.”

Alluding to the Republicans involved in efforts to challenge the election, Roy said, “I know a lot of the folks, I kind of know where they were, and I disagree, and I was vocal about that.”

Perhaps the most vocal Republican lawmaker opposed to Trump was—and is—Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), the only GOP senator to vote for convicting Trump in both impeachment trials.

When asked by The Daily Beast, Romney said he had been catching up on the hearings. His reaction to the committee’s work might be shared by many Democrats—and, perhaps privately, by some Republicans.

“There has been the best and the worst of America,” Romney said. “The worst by the former president and some of the people around him, and the best by some of the people who stood for the Constitution.”

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