Congressional Republicans are heading for another round of bruising fights this week over former President Donald Trump and his continued election lies, as Democratic leaders plan votes on bills to harden Congress’s defenses against violence and establish an independent commission that would investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Democratic leaders say both actions are necessary to understand and respond to the full scope of the attack and the baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election that fueled it. They struck a deal with a key Republican committee leader last week on the commission’s structure and a narrow mandate to look at the riot and its causes.
But the votes on that bill and a $1.9 billion security spending package will also drive fresh wedges through a Republican Party already battling itself over whether to call out Trump’s transgressions or continue to embrace his false statements.
Moderate Republicans appear ready to break with Trump to support the creation of the commission, if not endorse Democrats’ blueprint for keeping Congress safe. But Republican leadership, desperate to refocus the party on bashing President Joe Biden before the 2022 midterm elections, has yet to take a position after earlier demands that any such panel look at left-wing violence unrelated to the assault.
“It’s important to get to the truth and find out just how widespread this thing was and make sure it never happens again,” Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Upton called recent attempts by his far-right colleagues to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6 “absolutely bogus” and said his party, including its House leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, should trust the commission process.
“It’s going to be fair,” he said. “It should get a good number of votes, and yes, I do hope Kevin McCarthy supports it.”
McCarthy has repeatedly shown that he is more interested in putting the episode behind him and cultivating Trump’s support, which he believes he needs to recapture control of the House next year. A decision by McCarthy or other Republicans to back the commission would almost certainly enrage the former president.
Trump, after all, remains fixated on vindicating his election claims and justifying his loss with false statements. “The Presidential Election of 2020,” he said in a statement on Saturday, “will go down as THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY!”
The debate is almost certain to churn up many of the arguments hurled last week over House Republicans’ decision to oust their No. 3, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, from party leadership because she refused to stop criticizing Trump and members of her party for their roles in the attack.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Cheney said McCarthy and her replacement as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, were complicit in Trump’s lies and risked driving American democracy into a death spiral. She argued that a commission was vital to fleshing out the full extent of Trump’s campaign to undermine the election results, including anything McCarthy or other Republicans knew about it.
“I cannot imagine a more important issue than whether or not the Republican Party is going to be a party that embraces and defends the rule of law and the Constitution,” Cheney said.
Stefanik pushed back in her own appearance on Fox News, saying that Cheney was “looking backward” and that party leaders were eager to work with Trump to address “election integrity” issues with the 2020 vote.
“He’s critical to the party,” Stefanik said. “He is the leader of the Republican Party. Voters determine the leader of the Republican Party, and they continue to look to him for his vision.”