WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to form a select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with nearly all Republicans opposing the legislation – a sign of the political challenges that face Democrats as they attempt to probe why thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters swarmed the building and tried to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
The 220-to-190 nearly party-line vote stands in contrast to a vote in May, when 35 House Republicans joined Democrats to back the creation of an independent commission to examine the root causes of the attack. While that group of House Republicans was willing to embrace an outside panel of experts evenly weighted between GOP and Democratic appointees, most were wary of a select committee that would be firmly in the control of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s handpicked participants.
Pelosi, who has described the select committee as her second choice to the independent panel modeled on the 9/11 commission that Senate Republicans blocked last month, defended its creation as necessary.
“It will find the truth – which clearly the Republicans fear,” she said during a speech on the House floor Wednesday.
The vote Wednesday was the latest example of how Republicans have rallied against scrutinizing an attack they once strongly condemned. Any investigation into the Jan. 6 attack would probably focus on the role played by Trump in inspiring the crowd that came to Washington that day in support of his falsehoods about the election being stolen.
The former president remains popular with Republican voters, and GOP leaders have been wary of doing anything that could draw his ire as they rely on him to motivate the party’s base of voters ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Several House Republicans skipped Wednesday’s vote to join Trump on his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.
Only two of the 211 House Republicans voted in favor of creating the panel – Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both of whom were among the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January on charges he incited the attack.
In a statement, Cheney, who was ousted earlier this year from GOP leadership for criticizing Trump over his role in Jan. 6 attack, called the panel “our only remaining option.”
The other eight GOP lawmakers who had backed Trump’s second impeachment voted against forming the select committee on Wednesday, despite all having voted in favor of an independent commission in May.
One of those eight members, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., explained her opposition in a statement she posted to her Facebook page this week. It was “not good enough” to have a “partisan committee of politicians” investigate the events of the Jan. 6, she wrote, not least because its findings “will not be viewed as credible by at least half of Americans.”
Select committees are frequently relied upon to address pressing matters, but the high-profile ones also have a reputation for turning into forums for partisan mudslinging. A recent example is the GOP-led Select Committee on Benghazi, which was established in 2014 to investigate the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. It swiftly became a vehicle for excoriating former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to conduct government business ahead of her 2016 run for president.
That panel had 12 members, five of whom were appointed by the Democratic minority. Pelosi, D-Calif., designed the Jan. 6 select committee to have 13 members, five of whom would be appointed “after consultation with” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. That means Pelosi will be able to select eight of the panel members herself, including its chairman, and maintain the power to overrule McCarthy for picking anyone Democrats consider objectionable.
Pelosi has not announced whom she will appoint.
The chairman of the panel will wield power to subpoena witnesses and documents alone. Taking depositions would require the chair to consult with the most senior member of the minority appointees.
Democratic leaders have speculated in recent days that McCarthy might try to appoint conservative firebrands as a way of ensuring that Trump has defenders on the committee. But McCarthy has said nothing publicly about his plans, or even if he will participate in its creation. All he has said publicly regarding the panel is that Pelosi “never talked to me about it.”
Though he initially faulted Trump for inspiring the assault, McCarthy resisted early efforts to establish an outside panel to investigate it, arguing that Congress ought to cast a wider net – to look into domestic extremism more broadly and scrutinize left-wing groups alongside the right-wing and white-nationalist organizations that organized and populated the Capitol riot.
House Republican leaders avoided discussing the committee on Wednesday; none spoke during floor debate on the legislation.
In recent months, Pelosi and her deputies began working around McCarthy, negotiating instead with Republicans more amenable to the idea of treating Jan. 6 as a subject worthy of special investigation, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The failed bid to establish an independent commission was the product of a bipartisan agreement between the House Homeland Security Committee’s top Democrat and Republican.
An aide to Pelosi this week indicated that she is considering appointing a Republican to the select committee as one of the eight picks she makes.
Though the speaker has not said whom she has in mind, the most obvious candidate is Cheney, who was the highest-ranking House Republican to vote for Trump’s second impeachment in January, and has remained vocal in calling out the former president and her GOP colleagues who promote falsehoods about the 2020 election being stolen.
During the vote, the partner and mother of Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, joined several of his fellow officers in the House gallery to watch the vote. Pelosi blew them kisses from the floor below as the vote got underway, while Cheney went up a floor to where they were sitting and gave Sicknick’s mother a hug.
It is unclear when the panel’s work will begin. While the House-approved independent commission would have been given until the end of 2021 to complete its probe, to avoid its findings having outsize influence on next year’s midterm elections, there is no stated deadline in the bill the House approved Wednesday.
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The Washington Post’s Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.