Sharply split along party lines, the House launched a new investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on Wednesday, approving a special committee to probe the violent attack as police officers who were injured fighting Donald Trump's supporters watched from the gallery above.
The vote to form the panel was 222-190, with all but two Republicans objecting that majority Democrats would be in charge. The action came after Senate Republicans blocked creation of an independent commission that would have been evenly split between the two parties.
Ahead of the vote, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers in the chamber, “We will be judged by future generations as to how we value our democracy.” She said she preferred that an independent panel lead the inquiry but Congress could wait no longer to begin a deeper look at the insurrection that was the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years.
As the vote was called, Pelosi stood in the House gallery with several police officers who fought the rioters and with the family of an officer who died, hugging several of them. One of the officers, Michael Fanone of Washington's Metropolitan Police, said he was angry at Republicans for voting against an investigation after he almost lost his life to protect them.
“I try not to take these things personally, but it's very personal for me,” Fanone said.
Tensions in Congress have only worsened since the January day that Trump's supporters laid siege, hunted for lawmakers and temporarily halted the certification of President Joe Biden's victory. A brief sense of shared outrage has given way to partisan sniping and attempts among some Republicans to downplay the events. Most Republicans have made clear they want to move on from the insurrection - and former President Trump's role - though many of them had fled the violent mob themselves.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who lost her position in GOP leadership because of her criticism of Trump, was one of only two Republicans to vote for the panel. She declared, “Our nation, and the families of the brave law enforcement officers who were injured defending us or died following the attack, deserve answers.”
Most Republicans disagreed, though few came to the House floor to make statements defending their votes. Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas said he opposed what he called “one party investigating the other,” and Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup rejected the new probe as “incomplete and insufficient” because it would not look into other incidents including the 2017 shooting at a baseball field that badly wounded GOP Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Some Republicans opted to spend the day instead with Trump himself. More than two dozen GOP House members, including Jim Banks of Indiana, the chair of the Republican Study Committee; Ronny Jackson of Texas, the former White House physician; Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Lauren Boebert of Colorado joined the former president at an event at the end of the border wall in Pharr, Texas, to assail the Biden administration's border policies.
During the debate at the Capitol, Democrats expressed frustration with Republicans who have complained that the investigation would be partisan after their party blocked the bipartisan panel.
“I think for some on the other side, nothing that gets to the truth will ever be good enough, because they do not want the truth,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, who led the debate ahead of the vote.
The panel will be led by Democrats, with Pelosi appointing a chairperson and at least eight of the 13 members. The resolution gives her a possible say in the appointment of the other five members as well, directing that they will be named “after consultation” with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.
GOP leaders have declined to say whether Republicans will even participate. In a memo to all House Republicans late Tuesday, No. 2 House Republican Scalise urged his members to vote against the resolution, saying the committee “is likely to pursue a partisan agenda.”
McCarthy is facing pressure to take the investigation seriously from the police officers who responded to the attack. Dozens of officers suffered injuries that day as Trump's supporters fought past them and broke into the building.
In addition to Fanone, spectators included Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn. Fanone has described being dragged down the Capitol steps by rioters who shocked him with a stun gun and beat him. Hodges was crushed between two doors, and his bloody face and anguished screams were caught on video. Dunn has said that rioters yelled racial slurs and fought him in what resembled hand to hand combat as he held them back.
Also in the gallery were Gladys Sicknick and Sandra Garza, the mother and partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters. He was sprayed with chemical irritants, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.
At a meeting with McCarthy last week, Fanone 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 played down the violence and defended the insurrectionists.
Fanone said then that McCarthy told him he would take his request seriously. But the officer lashed out at the GOP leader after Wednesday's vote, saying he was trying to advance his political career “on the backs of hundreds of law enforcement officers that responded to defend the Capitol, himself included, from an insurrection.”
Trump was twice impeached by the House and twice acquitted by the Senate, the second time for telling his supporters just before the insurrection to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat to Biden.
Many Republicans have expressed concerns about a partisan probe, since majority Democrats are likely to investigate Trump's role in the siege and the groups that participated in it. Almost three dozen House Republicans voted last month for the legislation to create an independent commission, and 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 some have gone further, including Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who suggested that video of the rioters looked like a “tourist visit.” Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona insisted 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 rioters charged with federal crimes.
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 determined he died of natural causes.