Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House approved the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the causes of and government response to the Jan. 6 insurrection during which a pro-Donald Trump mob violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to block the certification of the 2020 election results. Several Texas congressional members braced themselves that day for hand-to-hand combat but were able to escape to safety thanks to the police and successful barricades.
The bill, which passed 252-175, would give the commission subpoena power and was highly contentious within the House GOP conference. A number of House Republicans backed the bill, but it remains uncertain whether it will pass the Senate.
The proposition initially gave Democrats outsized power in the commission, but House Democratic leaders backed off that course and the commission will be equally divided between five Republicans and five Democrats. Commissioners cannot be currently serving in government. But to qualify, each person must have a background in two of the following areas: government service, law enforcement, civil rights and civil liberties, the armed forces, intelligence, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, technology and the law.
Should it become law, Congressional leaders will name appointees within ten days of passage. At least two Texans — former U.S. Reps. Will Hurd, a Republican; and Martin Frost, a Democrat — have surfaced in speculation as possible commissioners.
Republicans say they continued to have issues with the proposal.
"The events of January 6th should be responsibly investigated. But to say that this bill is a responsible and proper way to do that is demonstrably false," U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican, said in a Tuesday statement. "We have an entire federal government with multiple, overlapping investigatory bodies that are designed for this purpose. The proposed commission does not have powers that existing law enforcement and existing congressional committees don’t already have; however, it does have an unlimited budget and a vague mandate."
Other arguments against the legislation included complaints that it would duplicate the efforts of state and local law enforcement. Those entities aim to hold individuals legally accountable for their alleged actions that day. The point of commissions like the proposed one is to evaluate failures within government operations that led to destruction.
In recent weeks, some House Republicans have launched a full out offensive to minimize the events of Jan. 6.
As Republican Congressional leaders signaled their opposition to the bill on Wednesday, an anonymous letter written on United States Capitol Police letterhead circulated in which officers scathingly criticized members who opposed a commission.
"On Jan 6th where some officers served their last day in a US Capitol Police uniform, and not by their choice, we would hope that the Members whom we took an oath to protect, would at the very minimum, support an investigation to get to the bottom of EVERYONE responsible and hold them 100 percent accountable no matter the title or position they hold or held," the letter stated.
"It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect, would downplay the events of January 6th. Member safety was dependent on the heroic actions of USCP. It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that 'It wasn't that bad,'" it continued. "That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members."
The U.S. Capitol Police twitter account stated that the letter was not an official position on the legislation.
Democrats openly speculate that at least some of the Republican opposition is rooted in a desire to protect former President Donald Trump, who spent months undermining the credibility of the presidential election to his supporters — hundreds of whom showed up at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Many engaged in hand-to-hand combat with U.S. Capitol Police in a bloody battle to protect members of Congress.
Moreover, a commission also likely puts U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the list of witnesses, due to the fact that he communicated with Trump during the attack, reportedly pleading for him to call off the rioters.
The legislation is modeled after the 9/11 Commission which led to sweeping changes in how the government dealt with terrorism and upon its release, a book version of the report was a surprise national bestseller.