WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders say they will oppose the creation of a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol — and have so far declined to say whether they will even participate in the probe.
In a memo to all House Republicans late Tuesday, No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise said the House panel “is likely to pursue a partisan agenda” in investigating the violent attack by former President Donald Trump's supporters, and he encouraged Republicans to vote against it. A vote on a resolution that would create the panel is scheduled for Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Scalise declined to say whether members of his party would even agree to sit on the committee, telling reporters at a news conference that “I can’t answer that question.” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy also declined to say whether Republicans would participate.
The Republican opposition comes as McCarthy is facing pressure to take the investigation seriously from police officers who responded to the attack, Democrats and even some of his fellow Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited representatives of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia and the U.S. Capitol Police to sit in the gallery and watch Wednesday's vote, according to a person familiar with the plan who wasn't authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity. Dozens of those officers were brutally beaten and suffered injuries as Trump's supporters pushed past them and broke into the building to interrupt the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.
The resolution introduced by the House speaker on Monday would have eight members on the committee appointed by Pelosi and five appointed “after consultation” with McCarthy — meaning Pelosi could potentially have veto power over every appointment to the panel.
Republican participation in the investigation, and the appointments to the panel, could help determine whether the committee becomes a bipartisan effort or instead a hotbed of 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.
Two of the officers who responded to the attack, Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, met with McCarthy on Friday and asked him to take the House investigation seriously.
Fanone, who has described being dragged down the Capitol steps by rioters who shocked him with a stun gun and beat him, 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 downplayed the violence and defended the insurrectionists. Fanone said McCarthy told him he would take his request seriously.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has also publicly pressured McCarthy. “I hope he appoints people who are seen as being credible,” he said Sunday on CNN.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a close Trump ally, said that he doesn't know what McCarthy is going to do but that it's possible Republicans will just choose not to be involved.
“I know I've got real concerns — I know he does — that this is all just political, and that this is impeachment three against President Trump," Jordan said.
Trump was twice impeached by the House and twice acquitted by the Senate, the second time after telling his supporters just before the insurrection to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat to Biden.
Pelosi moved to form the committee after Senate Republicans blocked an independent, bipartisan panel that would have been modeled after the commission that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She said it was her preference to have an independent panel lead the inquiry, but Congress could not wait any longer to begin a deeper look at the insurrection.
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 right-wing groups that participated in it. Almost three dozen House Republicans voted last month for the legislation to create an independent commission, which would have had an even partisan split among members. 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 Trump's role in it. But others have gone even further, with Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia suggesting video of the rioters looked like a “tourist visit” and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona insisting 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 the rioters as they have been charged with federal crimes.
In their meeting with McCarthy, Fanone and Dunn asked the GOP leader to publicly denounce the comments downplaying the violence as well as the 21 Republicans who recently voted against giving medals of honor to the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police to thank them for their service. They said McCarthy, who voted for the measure, told them he would deal with those members privately.
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 later determined he died of natural causes.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.