After Republicans blocked an independent commission to probe the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) vowed to move forward with an alternative: a special House committee.
But a week before that panel was supposed to start work on what they hoped would be a serious investigation, both parties got something else in the short-term—a fight. And if you listen to Republican and Democratic members and aides, it’s exactly the fight each side might want.
On Tuesday, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced he would appoint several hard-nosed MAGA loyalists—including Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN)—to a panel partially intended to explore the former president’s role in the Capitol riot.
Rank-and-file Democrats sighed, rolled their eyes, and accepted McCarthy’s move as the cost of doing business. But on Wednesday, Pelosi did something else: she used her power as speaker to boot Jordan and Banks from the committee, saying her “unprecedented decision” was justified by “the unprecedented nature of January 6th.”
“What would have been surprising is if the Speaker allowed McCarthy to appoint an arsonist to investigate the fire.”
— Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA)
About 15 minutes later, McCarthy announced he’d be pulling all five of his selections from the panel, saying the GOP would “not be party to their sham process,” and would start its own Jan. 6 investigation.
That leaves Democrats to run the committee as planned without a minority side of the dais—just one Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who Pelosi appointed herself.
Most Democrats didn’t expect Pelosi’s move. But nearly all were happy to cheer Pelosi on for her decision. There was, said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), “no discussion and no surprise.”
“What would have been surprising is if the Speaker allowed McCarthy to appoint an arsonist to investigate the fire,” Huffman said.
Few Democrats took the GOP’s involvement in a special committee seriously. Republican lawmakers, after all, continue to support former President Donald Trump’s dubious election fraud claims, continue to reject an independent commission to investigate Jan. 6, and continue to ignore or rewrite the events of that day and the causes leading up to it.
Appointing Jordan to the panel, they said, only confirmed how Republicans planned to turn the panel into a platform to bombastically defend Trump.
But Pelosi’s removal of Jordan and Banks—and the ensuing blow-up—gives both parties something they want.
“It’s absolutely the right decision,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a member of the Jan. 6 panel.
“[McCarthy] has demonstrated he’s not serious about this,” he added, “he’s only really serious about implementing the President’s will.”
“This is the optimal outcome for both Pelosi and McCarthy. She gets to control the narrative on the commission without distraction from expert distractors. He gets to call the whole thing a sham.”
— Senior GOP aide
Republicans, meanwhile, believe they have picked up a political weapon to use against Pelosi as they work to gain the House majority. Almost immediately after McCarthy’s announcement, the GOP’s House campaign arm blasted out a statement accusing her of “acting like a tyrant.”
“This is the optimal outcome for both Pelosi and McCarthy,” a senior GOP aide told The Daily Beast. “She gets to control the narrative on the commission without distraction from expert distractors. He gets to call the whole thing a sham.”
Another senior GOP aide made a similar point, saying this was pretty much what both leaders wanted, and that it was “great for every Republican but Troy Nehls.”
(Nehls is a freshman Republican from Texas named to the committee by McCarthy who stood to gain far more name recognition over his now-scuttled role.)
Either way, McCarthy and the GOP may get to call the whole thing a sham now, but in exchange, they will relinquish any influence over the direction of the high-profile probe that will now go on without them. Committee hearings are likely to still draw live cable news coverage, and instead of having Republicans there to rebut Democratic points and challenge witnesses, it will be a one-sided affair with consensus takeaways. Many observers see that as a baffling move that overshadows any short-term political benefit.
“Leader McCarthy harmed himself and his caucus more than anyone today, because he has now forfeited the opportunity to influence the scope or direction of the investigation, or to have their perspective present in the drafting of the final report,” said Austin Evers, director of the nonprofit American Oversight, which has advocated for a comprehensive investigation of Jan. 6.
And privately, Republicans acknowledge that McCarthy forfeited leverage by organizing his members to vote against legislation to create an independent commission—crafted by a Republican, Rep. John Katko of New York—which would have given Pelosi far less power.
“Any sort of narrative in which someone frames his chickenshit approach to all of this as savvy politics is clearly broken.”
— Senior Democratic aide
Cheney made that point herself, and called McCarthy’s position on the probe “disingenuous,” while talking to reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“There were 35 Republicans who supported an independent, bipartisan commission which, as I’ve said, would have been the far preferable way to go,” said Cheney. “Minority Leader McCarthy opposed that… this is the only option left.”
A senior Democratic aide made the point about McCarthy a little more bluntly. “Any sort of narrative in which someone frames his chickenshit approach to all of this as savvy politics is clearly broken,” they told The Daily Beast.
But Republicans get to cast a cloud of illegitimacy over the entire Jan. 6 committee. They’ll always be able to say the process surrounding the panel was broken, and they’ll get to show their GOP voters that they’re standing behind Trump without actually having to defend him.
Republicans can simply ignore the probe, continue to not talk about Jan. 6, and never contradict their party, their president, or their principles. The committee simply becomes, in their minds, a partisan attack that they aren’t responsible for addressing.
“These outcomes, they’re all political outcomes. For me, the outcome is just, we need to be able to move forward, and there are questions that we ought to know the answers to objectively.”
— Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX)
In that spirit, some Republicans were sort of baffled by McCarthy’s vague promise to create an alternative Jan. 6 investigation. One House Republican aide noted to The Daily Beast that he and other Republicans supported booting Cheney from leadership because of her alleged refusal to move on from the insurrection. “I just thought the issue with Cheney was that she wouldn’t move on,” said the aide, “and now we’re forming our own investigation?”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who called Pelosi’s move “astounding” and “a total airball,” told The Daily Beast he would be open to serving on such a panel, but suggested it wasn’t necessary. He argued that existing House committees could answer any outstanding questions about Jan. 6.
“These outcomes, they’re all political outcomes,” said Roy, when asked about whether Republicans wanted to do their own investigation all along. “For me, the outcome is just, we need to be able to move forward, and there are questions that we ought to know the answers to objectively.”
At this point, many Democrats are convinced that most Republicans—some of whom are endorsing conspiracy theories about Jan. 6—just aren’t interested in those questions.
“They had their chance,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). “The deal here is that they’re not interested in getting to the truth.”