For weeks, the media made the fate of Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the most important story in the political universe.
Now it’s the fate of a commission.
On the surface, it makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t Congress appoint an independent commission to investigate what happened on the dark day of Jan. 6? The Capitol riot was an attack on our democracy as fundamental as what happened on 9/11, lesser in scope but more troubling because no foreign enemies were involved.
And then there’s the more visceral reason: Every member of Congress lived through the assault on their workplace, many hiding in an attempt to save their lives. Some openly say they were traumatized. You might think that would provide added incentive to find out how the attack happened and how to ensure it never happens again.
But all that is no match for partisan politics, which ultimately controls everything that happens under the dome.
With Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell all opposing the idea, it appears to be dead.
Whatever the merits of a commission to be run by outside appointees, Republican leaders viewed it as a dagger aimed at former President Donald Trump. That’s what connected it to the Cheney story, the larger Trump narrative, which much of the mainstream media, bored by the Biden presidency, are very anxious to keep alive. That, combined with New York’s Democratic attorney general turning her investigation of the Trump Organization into a criminal probe, became cable’s top story on Tuesday, running in a loop.
McCarthy has become the media’s top target. Nancy Pelosi accused the House GOP leadership of cowardice, and many liberal pundits used that word, or close synonyms, in attacking the minority leader. What happened to the guy who pushed multiple investigations of Benghazi? What happened to the man who stood on the House floor and said Trump bore responsibility for the riot? Why did he abandon one of his own GOP members who negotiated the deal? Is he just protecting his friend at Mar-a-Lago?
Or — and this is always said in ominous tones — is McCarthy afraid of being subpoenaed to talk about his conversation with Trump as the violence of Jan. 6 unfolded?
What’s more, Pelosi had agreed to McCarthy’s demands that both parties have equal power in making appointments and wielding subpoena power.
But if McCarthy is taking a partisan stance, so too is the other side. Whatever the merits of an independent probe, which President Joe Biden also backed this week, it’s pretty clear the ultimate target would be Trump, not to mention the Republicans who voted not to certify some of the Electoral College results. And it’s true that a Senate committee is already digging into the matter, and federal prosecutors have charged more than 400 people in the attack.
Since it was pro-Trump supporters who stormed the building, it’s in the Democrats’ interest to keep talking about it until … oh, 2022 and beyond.
The arguments are illuminating. The original stance by McCarthy and his allies was that any commission should also look at left-wing violence, such as the roles of Black Lives Matter and Antifa in last year’s urban riots.
Now, the criminal acts that rocked places like Portland and Seattle are unquestionably important. But what does it have to do with the Capitol insurrection? To critics, it came off as a form of what-about-ism, which is why Republicans now want to scrap the thing entirely.
That opposition seemed choreographed, even if it wasn’t. McCarthy went public Tuesday, the day before Wednesday’s House vote. He blamed “the speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America.”
Late Tuesday night, Trump issued a release calling the commission a “Democrat trap,” and name-checking McCarthy and McConnell:
“It is just more partisan unfairness and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately. Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left.”
But the Senate minority leader, in what seemed like a rift, said Tuesday that he was “willing to listen” to arguments in favor of a commission, and that his GOP colleagues were “undecided” on the proposal. “We want to read the fine print,” he said.
Well, that didn’t take long. Yesterday morning, McConnell took to the floor and complained that “House Democrats have handled this proposal in partisan bad faith from the beginning.” He said there was “no shortage of robust investigations” and that a commission was unnecessary. So it’s hard to imagine the Dems coming up with 60 Senate votes.
The attacks of Jan. 6 will cast a dark shadow over our politics for a long time to come. But the battle will be fought in other venues than an independent commission.