House strikes deal to create independent January 6 commission
The top Democrat and Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee struck a deal to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol, breaking a months-long logjam between House leaders about how to structure the independent panel.
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. John Katko of New York, announced on Friday they had reached an agreement for the panel that would be modeled after the 9/11 Commission.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to lawmakers on Friday that the House would vote on the legislation creating the commission next week, as well as a $2 billion supplemental funding bill to bolster security at the Capitol.
After the agreement was announced Friday, it was not clear whether House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy — who has been fighting with Pelosi over the commission proposal — would sign off on the deal, as he said he was still reviewing it.
The commission proposed by Thompson and Katko would include a 10-member panel, with half appointed by Democratic congressional leaders, including the chair, and half by Republicans, including the vice chair. The panel will have the power to issue subpoenas if they are signed off by both the chair and vice chair, according to a summary released by the committee.
The commission would be tasked with issuing a final report by the end of this year, making it a quick timeline for the panel to put out a final product.
The deal represents a significant bipartisan breakthrough on a proposal that had been stalled for months since Pelosi first proposed a commission to investigate the insurrection at the Capitol in the days after the deadly January 6 attack, in which hundreds of pro-Trump supporters breached the Capitol walls and forced lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence to evacuate the House and Senate chambers. The Justice Department has charged more than 400 people in the Capitol riot so far.
Pelosi was at odds with both McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the scope that such a commission would examine, as well as the partisan makeup of the panel and how subpoenas could be issued.
Republicans had insisted that any investigation of the lead-up to the January 6 Capitol attack — which would surely include former President Donald Trump’s role in falsely claiming the election had been stolen — should also include an examination of violence from far-left groups like Antifa during protests of police brutality last year.
Pelosi made concessions last month for the commission to include an equal number of members appointed by Democrats and Republicans and for subpoenas to require both sides to sign off, but the fight over the scope remained the key sticking point.
After the agreement was announced, it was not clear whether McCarthy was on board. He said he had yet to see the details and said the scope should not just be focused on January 6.
“I’m going to look through it,” McCarthy said, adding that he had not signed off on the deal Katko reached before it was announced. “We had an officer killed on Good Friday. If this commission is going to come forth to tell us how to protect this facility in the future you want to make sure that the scope that you can look at all that, what came up before and what came up after. So that’s very concerning to me.”
House leaders were at odds over panel
McCarthy’s comments underscored the partisan back-and-forth between the two House leaders over the commission, as both had accused the other of not being serious about finding a deal or even wanting an independent panel to study the attack.
“It would have been nice to actually sit down and work with her,” McCarthy told CNN earlier this week, before the deal was announced. “So you can do January 6, you could do what’s happening there, you could do whatever is causing it. Wouldn’t you want, if this is going to be used to ask for funding to make sure the Capitol is safe, why wouldn’t you look at everything? That’s all I’m saying.”
Democrats have accused McCarthy of trying to scuttle the commission by insisting it also look at violence involving far-left groups as a way to dilute Trump’s role ahead of the January 6 Capitol attack.
“Kevin McCarthy has made it very clear that he’s going to continue to carry water for Donald Trump, and even if that means trying to whitewash what happened on January 6 or try to get money, by bringing in other unrelated activities or incidents — I do have concern about that,” said Rep. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat.
In recent days, McCarthy’s rhetoric on the scope of the commission has shifted from calling for the investigation to include left-wing violence like Antifa at police protests last year to instead include the April attack at the Capitol that killed a Capitol Police officer.
Katko in a statement said that the Capitol “remains a target for extremists of all ideologies,” and he cited the April attack at the Capitol, in which the suspect rammed his vehicle into a police barricade on Constitution Avenue, striking two officers.
“An independent, bipartisan commission will remove politicization of the conversation and focus solely on the facts and circumstances surrounding the security breach at the Capitol as well as other instances of violence relevant to such a review,” Katko said.
Katko confirmed to reporters Friday that McCarthy was still reviewing the deal and had not yet signed off.
“He’s looking at it,” Katko said of McCarthy. Asked whether he believed GOP House leadership could have a problem with the deal, Katko said, “I’ll see about it.”
The House could pass the bill to create the commission without the support of McCarthy or most Republicans, but the Senate would need at least 10 Republicans to back it to overcome a potential filibuster.
The legislation released by the committee does not mention anything about violence that occurred during police protests last year. It also does not specifically mention Trump or the lies about the election that fueled pro-Trump supporters to descend on the Capitol on January 6 to try to disrupt congressional certification of the Electoral College vote.
“The Commission will be charged with investigating and reporting upon the facts and causes of the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy,” a committee summary says.
The text of the legislation to establish the commission says that the commission will build upon other investigations into the Capitol attack, and it should examine the role that the various law enforcement and intelligence agencies played in responding to the insurrection.
The legislation also includes language for the commission to examine how technology, including potential foreign influence, contributed to the motivation, organization and execution of the attack on the Capitol.
The committee said that the members who are appointed to the commission must have significant expertise in law enforcement, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence and cybersecurity, and they cannot be current government officials.
House to take up commission bill next week
In a statement Friday, Pelosi praised the agreement that was reached by the Homeland Security Committee leaders. Asked if McCarthy could stop the bipartisan deal, Pelosi told CNN Friday, “Why don’t you ask him?”
“His ranking member is a co-sponsor of the legislation we’re very pleased that it is bipartisan, and the scope was very important in the legislation. That’s all I’m going to say” Pelosi said of Katko.
Pelosi and McCarthy had traded proposals back and forth about the parameters of the commission over the past several months, but they never appeared to engage in serious negotiations about what the final legislation would look like.
Pelosi’s initial outreach to Republicans was to Katko through Thompson, rather than McCarthy, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the deputization of negotiations.
Ultimately, Pelosi tapped Thompson to reach the final agreement with Katko, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January.
Thompson this week expressed optimism that the two would be able to strike a deal.
“I am pleased that after many months of intensive discussion, Ranking Member Katko and I were able to reach a bipartisan agreement,” Thompson said in a statement. “Inaction — or just moving on — is simply not an option. The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat and one of the moderate Democrats who has been advocating for the commission, said she was hopeful that Katko’s support would lead to Republicans backing the agreement.
“I know he’s negotiating in good faith” Slotkin said of Katko on Thursday, before the deal was reached. “The question will be is whether the senior leadership of their party will accept a good faith effort.”
This story has been updated with additional details.