WASHINGTON — The House voted mostly along party lines Wednesday to create a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, pushing ahead over nearly unanimous Republican opposition with a broad inquiry controlled by Democrats into the deadliest attack on Congress in centuries.
The panel, established at the behest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi after Senate Republicans blocked the formation of a bipartisan independent commission to scrutinize the assault, will investigate what its organizing resolution calls “the facts, circumstances and causes relating to the Jan. 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack.”
The 13-member panel, which has subpoena power, will have eight members named by the majority party and five with input from Republicans, and is meant to examine President Donald Trump’s role in inspiring the riot. While the measure creating it does not mention him, it charges the committee with looking at the law enforcement and government response to the storming of the Capitol and “the influencing factors that fomented such an attack on American representative democracy while engaged in a constitutional process.”
It passed by a vote of 222-190, with only two Republicans joining Democrats to support it.
“We have a duty to the Constitution and to the American people to find the truth of Jan. 6 and to ensure that such an assault on our democracy can never happen again,” Pelosi said, calling Jan. 6 “one of the darkest days of our history.”
“The sheer scale of the violence of that day is shocking,” she added. “But what is just as shocking is remembering why this violence occurred: to block the certification of an election and the peaceful transfer of power that is the cornerstone of our democracy.”
Several officers who responded to the riot that day were on hand to watch the vote from Pelosi’s box in the House gallery. They included Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police and two District of Columbia police officers: Michael Fanone, who has lobbied Republicans to support an investigation, and Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a door during the rampage. Relatives of Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died after clashing with the rioters, joined them.
While the measure says that five members of the panel are to be named “after consultation with the minority leader,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., he has not said whether he will recommend anyone. Last week, he told Fanone and Dunn in a private meeting that he would take the appointment process seriously, even as he declined to publicly denounce members of his party who have sought to downplay or spread lies about the riot.
Pelosi is considering picking a Republican who has acknowledged the gravity of the attack for one of her eight slots, according to an aide. But her options are exceedingly slim.
Shortly after the breach, many Republicans expressed outrage and vowed to hold the perpetrators accountable. But their support for an investigation has eroded steadily in the months since and all but evaporated after Trump issued a statement in May calling the idea of an independent inquiry a “Democrat trap.”
Many have speculated that Pelosi might select Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was removed from her House leadership post after she pushed Republicans to hold themselves and Trump responsible for fomenting the riot with the lie that the 2020 election had been stolen.
Cheney, one of only 35 House Republicans who voted to create the independent commission, which was to be modeled after the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, also broke with her party Wednesday to vote in favor of forming the panel.
“I believe this select committee is our only remaining option,” she said in a statement. “The committee should issue and enforce subpoenas promptly, hire skilled counsel, and do its job thoroughly and expeditiously.”
Only one other Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an outspoken critic of Trump, supported the move.
Few Republicans spoke during the debate, and about two dozen missed the vote altogether to fly to the southern border to attend an event with Trump, who praised some of them by name.
But whether in person or remotely, the party lined up in opposition to the panel, which their leaders insisted would be a one-sided forum for Democrats to censure Trump and try to kneecap Republicans in the 2022 elections.
Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., argued that the committee would duplicate existing investigations and engage in “partisan, divisive politics.”
“We gave you bipartisan,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., responded, referring to the proposed independent inquiry, which would have had an equal number of Democrat- and Republican-appointed members. “Give me a break. This is clear: They don’t want to get to the truth.”
In particular, the select committee is charged with investigating failures in law enforcement, such as intelligence gathering, and the root causes that influenced so many to turn violent, scrutinizing online platforms and any potential “malign foreign influence operations.”
During the debate Wednesday, several Democrats spoke of the emotional toll Jan. 6 had taken on them. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. — who was shot in 1978 on a remote airstrip in Guyana during the Jonestown massacre, which killed her boss at the time, Rep. Leo Ryan, D-Calif., and four others — recalled being trapped in the House chamber and hearing a gunshot outside.
“My heart is racing right now, and I’m trembling,” she said, thinking back on Jan. 6. “I thought at that moment, ‘My God, I survived Guyana. But I’m not going to survive this in the house of democracy.’”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, called the riot, which unfolded as Congress officially tallied electoral votes to formalize President Joe Biden’s victory, “one of the most shattering times of my life — to see the work of our government violated and stopped by an insurrection.”
“I don’t know what would have happened if they had captured the vice president,” Maloney said, referring the mob’s threats to hang Mike Pence, for whom they built a gallows outside the Capitol. “His life would have been in danger, no question.”
Nearly 140 police officers were injured in the attack, and at least seven people died in connection with it, including two officers who were on duty Jan. 6 and later took their own lives.
Several investigations into the assault are already underway, but none have a mandate to look comprehensively at the event similar to the fact-finding commissions that scrutinized Sept. 11, the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
The FBI has arrested nearly 500 people involved in the Jan. 6 breach and is pursuing potentially hundreds more, the agency’s director told Congress. Several congressional committees are conducting their own investigations, including two Senate panels that outlined large-scale failures that contributed to the assault. And several inspectors general have begun their own inquiries, finding lapses and miscalculations around the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.
The select committee is similar in design to the panel the Republican-controlled House formed in 2014 to investigate an attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, which Democrats denounced as intended to damage the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton, who had been secretary of state at the time. It ultimately became one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history.
That panel was made up of seven Republicans and five Democrats.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.