Democrats and Republicans want to look at the Capitol Hill riots of January 6 differently and for obvious reasons.
Democrats are keen on calling out the Grand Old Party on the ugly and violent turn of events and pin the blame on the then President Donald Trump and highlight not only alleged lies about the elections of November 2020 but also the absolute disdain for the constitutional and political process. Republicans, on the other hand, seem to be in a bind between those who want to get past Trump and January 6 and a handful of conservative lawmakers and right-wing extremist supporters who want to keep the issue alive so as to reap dividends in the 2022 Congressional elections and perhaps even the Presidential election of 2024.
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At one time, it seemed that both Republicans and Democrats were in favour of a national bipartisan commission that would once and for all put an end to the acrimonious contentions on both sides on what took place on January 6 in the name of preventing the certification of Joseph Biden as the next President of the United States. The comparison was always with the National Commission formed in 2002 in the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, known as 9/11. In fact, there were Republicans who quietly believed that a bipartisan commission’s findings would be the ideal platform to jettison Donald Trump and his minions. The fact that 35 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted with Democrats to form a National Commission was seen as the first indication of the Grand Old Party wanting a break with Trump and Trumpism.
Democrats in the Senate led by the Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are keen on keeping the pressure on their Republican colleagues by bringing it to the Senate floor next week. But even the best of optimists are unwilling to hedge bets on 10 Republicans crossing over to facilitate a vote; the thinking is that even the seven Republican Senators who voted to impeach President Trump are unlikely to join Democrats as a group. Two or three Republican Senators voting for the motion is not going to make a big difference. The Republican Minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, has been working overtime behind the scenes to persuade some in the Group of Seven not to go along. And the reasons he and like-minded Republicans have been giving are that the National Commission is not truly bipartisan in its approach as it does not enquire into the “left-wing violence”; and that there are enough committees in the House and Senate already at the job.
Nationally, a March Monmouth University survey said that a solid majority of Americans want an Independent Commission, with only 37 per cent favouring other “internal investigations” with about 50 per cent of Republicans wanting an independent inquiry. At the same time, while polls have shown Trump further slipping, he is seen as tightening his grip on the Republican Party, which is perhaps a major reason why lawmakers in the Grand Old Party are scared to get on his wrong side.
But there is a political angle to this as well. As Lauren Fox puts it, “Republicans are also keenly aware of what another seven months of investigation into January 6 would mean: more talk of former President Donald Trump, more talk of the big lie, more questions each and every day about a dark day that was the culmination of months of falsehoods and fanning of the flames by many members in the GOP. If the goal is to take back the House and Senate in 2022, that’s not helpful.”
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Only days before the vote in the House, Republicans and Democrats had indeed come to an
understanding on the broad contours of the National Commission that was negotiated and crafted by Representatives Bennie Thompson for Democrats and John Katko for Republicans. But a day before the formal vote, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threw Katko under the bus saying that he cannot support the legislation as it was duplicative, counter-productive and the Speaker’s “shortsighted scope”.
But there is a perception that McCarthy, aside from harbouring political ambitions of being House Speaker in case the Republicans make it in 2022, does not in the short term wish to be embarrassed as Democrats are most certain to call him to testify under oath on a phone conversation he is supposed to have had with Trump on January 6 in which the former President is reported to have told the California Republican that the rioters “are more upset about the election than you are”.
And on the House floor, this is what Congressman McCarthy had to say: “The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action of President Trump.”
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Risky as it may be politically, Democrats do not seem to be backing down in their call for a National Commission to get to the bottom of January 6 riot. The chances of Senator Schumer succeeding in the Senate is a very long shot, but Democrats are determined to drag this down to committees and select committees even as they will be tagged with the label of a bunch of people who are clinging on to the past and unwilling to look to the future. In the process, the Democratic Party may be seeing a resurgent Trump and his mean machine, but party rank and file may be willing to take a chance.
A former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and United Nations the
writer is currently a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of
Science and Humanities at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai.
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