WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that a proposed commission to study what went wrong in the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol must be “strongly bipartisan” and have the power to subpoena witnesses, similar to a commission that studied the 9/11 terrorist attacks and spurred major reforms in the intelligence community and beyond.
Pelosi said she is working on legislation to form a commission, with the details closely mirroring the bipartisan 9/11 panel that made sweeping recommendations in 2004 to prevent another terrorist attack like the ones in New York and Washington. The two chairmen of that panel, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, wrote a letter to congressional leaders and President Joe Biden last week recommending they set up a commission to investigate and “establish a single narrative and set of facts to identify how the Capitol was left vulnerable, as well as corrective actions to make the institution safe again.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will support the commission. But to ensure Republican support, Pelosi said Democrats sent the proposal to GOP leaders “to see what suggestions they may have because, for this to work, it really has to be strongly bipartisan."
The negotiations over setting up the commission are the most recent test for a Congress that is not only shaken by the attack — which left five people dead — but also deeply divided over anything involving former President Donald Trump. The vast majority of Republicans stood by Trump as Democrats tried, unsuccessfully, to impeach him for telling his supporters who attacked the Capitol to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat as Congress counted votes. It is an open question whether the commission will be authorized to investigate Trump's actions.
Legislation to stand up the commission could be introduced as soon as this week, according to a person familiar with the planning and granted anonymity to discuss it. While Democrats could easily pass the legislation through Congress on their own, and President Biden has said he will support it, they say Republican backing is necessary for the commission to be effective.
Neither House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, a close ally of the former president, nor Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been sharply critical of Trump’s role in the attacks, have said if they would support forming a commission on the Capitol riot. Spokespeople for McCarthy and other House GOP leaders did not return requests for comment on the legislation.
Still, some Republicans have said they think such a commission is necessary alongside other congressional efforts to investigate the attack.
“There should be a complete investigation about what happened,” said Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. “What was known, who knew it and when they knew, all that, because that builds the basis so this never happens again.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies, also said this weekend that he supports a commission “to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again.”
Democrats made clear that if the commission is formed, it should examine Trump’s role.
“There’s still more evidence that the American people need and deserve to hear and a 9/11 commission is a way to make sure that we secure the Capitol going forward,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. “And that we lay bare the record of just how responsible and how abjectly violating of his constitutional oath President Trump really was.”
The independent 9/11 Commission in 2004 made 41 sweeping recommendations to prevent another terrorist attack, covering tighter domestic security, reform of intelligence gathering and new foreign policy directions. Several of them were later passed by Congress and signed by then-President George W. Bush.
In their letter, Hamilton, a Democrat, and Kean, a Republican, said that a “strong, resilient, and responsive Congress is essential for our system of government to work,” and the commission was essential so that the American people learn the truth of what happened.
They recommended the panel have subpoena power and that that it be bipartisan, including staff that are chosen for their expertise, and that there be “adequate time and sufficient resources,” according to the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
“Our country has been wounded,” the former 9/11 commission chairmen said. “A full accounting of the events of January 6th and the identification of measures to strengthen the Congress can help our country heal.”
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed.