Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Jan. 6 Narrative Commission

By The Editorial Board | The Wall Street Journal

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters outside the White House on May 12. - PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

There’s little chance of a fair-minded inquiry in today’s Washington.

Democrats are forcing a House vote Wednesday to establish a commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6, despite opposition from Republican leaders. Do not expect this largely partisan vote to yield a bipartisan accounting of the Capitol riot.

An independent commission could be useful if it answered outstanding questions and agreed on a common set of facts about events. The Capitol police and law enforcement haven't been forthcoming with key details—such as the role the police played in letting rioters enter the building, or the circumstances of the killing of protester Ashli Babbitt, or what they know about who planned what.

Yet the prospects for that are none and slimmer. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been driving this idea, and she has a record of using these commissions for partisan ends. Her goal here is drive her narrative that the riot was a planned attempted coup, and to run on that theme to keep the House in 2022. She tipped her ambitions when she first proposed a commission with seven members appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans.

She has since made concessions to Republicans, who are divided as usual. Last week New York’s John Katko, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, struck a commission deal with Democrats. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy immediately panned the proposal. This is the latest leadership misfire by Mr. McCarthy, which doesn’t bode well if he becomes Speaker in 2023.

The press says Republicans got what they wanted, namely a commission with five members (including the chair) named by Democrats, and five (including a vice chair) by Republicans. The proposal requires agreement between the chair and vice chair—or a vote of a majority of the commission—to issue subpoenas. The commission would be required to issue its report by Dec. 31.

But hidden in the fine print are tools empowering Democrats. The bill gives the chairman unilateral authority to demand information from federal agencies and appoint senior staff. “Thanks to powers invested in the Chairperson alone, the Democratically-appointed members would have significant control over the direction of the investigation” and the ability to stop GOP members from “engaging in mischief,” New York University law professor Ryan Goodman reassured a Washington Post writer.

Mr. McCarthy also wants the commission to address the political violence beyond Jan. 6—including the 2017 attack at a Republican baseball practice that almost killed Rep. Steve Scalise ; this year’s Good Friday murder of Capitol officer William Evans ; and attacks on a federal courthouse in Portland, Ore. But Democrats are opposed, and the broader the mandate the greater likelihood of discord.

Multiple investigations of the Jan. 6 events are already underway. The Justice Department has announced 445 arrests, and the Office of the Architect of the Capitol has been allocated $10 million to conduct a security review. Congressional committees, led by Democrats, have been holding hearings and will no doubt issue reports. Unless a commission could work together, its effort would be redundant.

It’s a shame to say it, but there isn’t enough shared trust in Washington these days to pull off a bipartisan inquiry on so polarized a subject. Mrs. Pelosi views the commission as a path to retain her majority, and Donald Trump will be cat-calling from the sidelines.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer gave the game away on Tuesday when he said: “Republicans can let their constituents know: Are they on the side of truth, or do they want to cover up for the insurrectionists and for Donald Trump?” Fair-minded inquiry?

A commission will add more partisan heat than light, so better to let Congress and law enforcement do their job in regular order, and be held accountable for it.