The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved creation of an independent commission to investigate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 when a mob of supporters of former president Donald Trump tried to block lawmakers from certifying that he had lost last November’s election to Democrat Joe Biden.
The Democratic-controlled House, joined by 35 Republicans, voted 252-175 to create the commission, similar to one that investigated the 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the U.S.
But the fate of the legislation remains uncertain in the politically divided Senate, where Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday said he was opposed to the commission, a day after he said he was open to the idea. Senate legislative rules would force Democrats to secure the votes of at least 10 Republicans to establish the commission.
Dozens of Republican lawmakers, many of them beholden to Trump even as he lost the White House and left Washington, have voiced opposition to creation of a panel that inevitably would showcase the role he played January 6 at a rally outside the White House an hour before chaos erupted at the Capitol.
Trump urged thousands of his supporters to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” against lawmakers as they were certifying Biden’s victory in the Electoral College that determines the outcome of U.S. presidential elections.
About 800 rioters, many of them wearing Trump-themed hats and shirts, rampaged past authorities into the Capitol, smashed windows and doors, took control of both chambers of Congress, rifled through papers in congressional offices and scuffled with police before order was restored hours later. Five people were left dead, and more than 400 people have since been arrested and charged with an array of criminal offenses.
Trump released a statement Tuesday night urging Republicans against approving what he called a "Democrat trap."
Before voicing his opposition to the commission, McConnell said Tuesday that he was "pushing the pause button" on the legislation to create the bipartisan panel. McConnell told reporters that Senate Republicans are "undecided" but willing to listen to arguments about "whether such a commission is needed." McConnell questioned whether a probe by a commission might interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation in which few of the cases have been adjudicated.
Several congressional committees have already held hearings on security lapses at the Capitol on January 6 and the reasons why it took hours for Trump administration officials to respond to pleas for troops to quell the insurrection.
On Tuesday, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy expressed his opposition to the commission, in part because it would focus exclusively on events of January 6, rather than other political violence in the U.S. in recent years. If a commission is created, McCarthy could be subpoenaed to testify since he talked to Trump during the chaos.
A Republican lawmaker, Congressman John Katko of New York, negotiated with Democrats on the would-be scope of the commission.
"I recognize there are differing views on this issue, which is an inherent part of the legislative process and not something I take personally," Katko said in a statement. "However, as the Republican Leader of the Homeland Security Committee, I feel a deep obligation to get the answers U.S. Capitol Police and Americans deserve and ensure an attack on the heart of our democracy never happens again."
The debate on whether to create the commission is occurring at a time when some Republicans have begun to downplay the severity of the January 6 attack. One Republican House lawmaker, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, last week described the mob entering the Capitol as a “normal tourist visit,” although a photo later emerged of Clyde pushing to hold a door shut to keep rioters out of the House gallery.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to bring the legislation to a Senate vote.
"Republicans can let their constituents know: Are they on the side for truth or are they going to cover up?" Schumer said.
The Biden administration supports creating the commission, saying that the American people deserve "a full and fair accounting to prevent future violence and strengthen the security and resilience of our democratic institutions."