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WASHINGTON — Rep. Adam Schiff’s proposal for a 9/11-style commission to study the nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak would give the president the power to appoint the chairman, and would not begin its work until after the 2020 election in November.
Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was the central Democratic figure in the impeachment trial of President Trump in January, serving as the prosecutor. As a result, his political profile has greatly increased but has also become much more sharply partisan.
But Schiff argues his proposal for a commission to study the nation’s response to the current pandemic is based on the commission that examined the 9/11 attacks, from 2002 to 2004.
“This is not an exercise in casting blame or scoring political points, but something that the American people should rightly expect from their government as an exercise in accountability,” Schiff said in a statement. “In designing such a commission, I believe that the 9/11 Commission provides an established and proven model, one which Congress should adapt to the purposes of the Coronavirus.”
“Though we are still in the early days of the Coronavirus crisis, there is no doubt that such a comprehensive and authoritative review will be required,” he said.
The commission would include 10 members, with no more than five from any one political party. The president would pick the chairman, and the vice chair would be chosen by the leader of the opposing party in the Senate.
The timeline for choosing commission members would be the two weeks after the inauguration of the next president. So if President Trump were reelected this fall, he would pick the chairman, and the Senate Democratic leader would pick the vice chair. If Joe Biden were elected president, he would pick the chairman, and the Senate Republican leader would pick the vice chair.
The other eight members would be chosen by the leaders of the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House.
The text of Schiff’s proposal states that commission members “should be prominent United States citizens, with national recognition and significant depth of experience in such professions as public health, medicine (including epidemiology), governmental service, academia, homeland security, the armed services, emergency preparedness and management, law, public administration, and intelligence.”
In the first few words of Schiff’s proposal, it states that the commission’s purpose would be “not just to look back at prior practices and mistakes but to learn lessons as quickly as possible to better protect the United States going forward.”
The text specifically focuses on what the coronavirus outbreak might reveal about “how prepared the United States would be for a biological attack.”
The Schiff proposal is an early marker in a debate that could go on for some time, about whether to pursue such a commission, and whether it’s possible to do so in a bipartisan fashion.
“It has to be bipartisan,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.
Pelosi helped author the legislation to establish the 9/11 Commission and was a member of that panel. While she relied heavily on Schiff during the impeachment inquiry in the House, she indicated that she is not yet at the point where she wants to focus on an after-action report regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
She is more focused on creating a commission to oversee the federal government spending programs created through the $2.2 trillion rescue package passed last week.
“Right now, we just have to work together to get through this,” Pelosi said.
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