Split along party lines, the House launched a new investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection on Wednesday, approving a special committee to probe the violent attack as police officers who were injured fighting former President Donald Trump’s supporters watched from the gallery above.
The vote to form the panel was 222-190, with Republicans objecting that majority Democrats would be in charge. The action came after Senate Republicans blocked creation of an independent commission that would have been evenly split between the two parties.
Emphasizing the importance that Democrats attached to the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers in the chamber: “We will be judged by future generations as to how we value our democracy.”
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who lost her position in GOP leadership because of her criticism of Trump, was one of only two Republicans to vote for the panel. She declared, “Our nation, and the families of the brave law enforcement officers who were injured defending us or died following the attack, deserve answers.”
But Ohio Republican Brad Wenstrup rejected the new probe as “incomplete and insufficient” because it would not look into other incidents including the 2017 shooting at a baseball field that badly injured GOP Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Pelosi said she preferred that an independent panel lead the inquiry but Congress could wait no longer to begin a deeper look at the insurrection that was the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years.
Tensions have worsened in Congress since Trump’s supporters laid siege, aiming to stop Congress’ certification of Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden. A brief sense of shared outrage has given way to partisan politics and attempts among some Republicans to downplay the events of the day. Most Republicans have made clear they want to move on from the insurrection — and Trump’s role — though many of them had fled the violent mob themselves.
Democrats expressed frustration with those Republicans who have complained that the investigation would be partisan after their party blocked the bipartisan panel.
“I think for some on the other side, nothing that gets to the truth will ever be good enough, because they do not want the truth,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, who led the debate ahead of the vote.
The panel would be led by Democrats, with Pelosi appointing a chairperson and at least eight of the committee’s 13 members. The resolution gives her a possible say in the appointment of the other five members as well, directing that they will be named “after consultation” with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.
GOP leaders have declined to say whether Republicans will even participate. In a memo to all House Republicans late Tuesday, No. 2 House Republican Scalise urged his members to vote against the resolution, saying the committee “is likely to pursue a partisan agenda.”
The GOP role in the probe, and the appointments to the panel, could help determine whether the committee becomes a bipartisan effort or a tool of further division. Two Senate committees issued a bipartisan report with security recommendations earlier this month, but it did not examine the origins of the siege, leaving many unanswered questions about the events of the day.
McCarthy is facing pressure to take the investigation seriously from police officers who responded to the attack, several of whom sat in the gallery and watched the debate. Dozens of officers suffered injuries that day as Trump’s supporters pushed past them and broke into the building to interrupt the certification President Biden’s victory.
The spectators included Metropolitan Police Officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn. Fanone has described being dragged down the Capitol steps by rioters who shocked him with a stun gun and beat him. Hodges was crushed between two doors. And Dunn has said that rioters yelled racial slurs and fought him in what resembled hand to hand combat as he held them back.
Also in the gallery were Gladys Sicknick and Sandra Garza, the mother and partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters. He was sprayed with chemical irritants, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.
Fanone and Dunn met with McCarthy on Friday. Fanone said he asked McCarthy for a commitment not to put “the wrong people” on the panel, a reference to those in the GOP who have played down the violence and defended the insurrectionists. He said McCarthy told him he would take his request seriously.
Trump was twice impeached by the House and twice acquitted by the Senate, the second time for telling his supporters just before the insurrection to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat to Biden.
Pelosi has not yet said who will lead the panel, but one possibility is House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. Thompson said Tuesday that it would be an honor to serve as chair and that it’s Pelosi’s call if she wants to have a say on the Republican members.
“They had an opportunity to really engage,” Thompson said of Republicans who voted against the bipartisan commission. “And they didn’t. So they can’t now come back and say, ‘Oh, that’s not fair.’”
Many Republicans have expressed concerns about a partisan probe, since majority Democrats are likely to investigate Trump’s role in the siege and the groups that participated in it. Almost three dozen House Republicans voted last month for the legislation to create an independent commission, and seven Republicans in the Senate have also supported moving forward on that bill. But that was short of the 10 Senate Republicans who would be necessary to pass it.
Many Republicans have made clear that they want to move on from the Jan. 6 attack. And some have gone further, including Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who suggested that video of the rioters looked like a “tourist visit.” Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona insisted that a Trump supporter named Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed that day while trying to break into the House chamber, was “executed.” Others have defended rioters charged with federal crimes.
Seven people died during and after the rioting, including Babbitt and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies. Two police officers died by suicide in the days that followed, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.