Congressional Democrats said Thursday that they would be open to an even partisan split for a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, but a dispute over the panel’s scope remained a key sticking point as Congress feuds over the creation of the independent commission.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California responded to criticisms from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday by accusing the Kentucky Republican of “taking a page out of the book of Sen. (Ron) Johnson,” the Wisconsin Republican who was criticized for falsely suggesting in a Senate hearing this week that supporters of former President Donald Trump were not behind the Capitol attack.
“I’m disappointed in what I heard the minority leader yesterday, McConnell, say on the floor. It was really quite stunning, because in my brief conversation with him on this subject, I had the impression that he wanted to have a January 6 similar to 9/11 Commission. But what he said on the floor was really a departure from that,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.
On Wednesday, McConnell said he was opposed to Pelosi’s plan for the commission to investigate domestic terrorism broadly, arguing it would amount to “artificial cherry-picking of which terrible behavior does and which terrible behavior does not deserve scrutiny” – an implicit suggestion that if the commission examines domestic terrorism it should also look at the violence surrounding protests of police brutality last year.
The back-and-forth between Pelosi and McConnell is the latest sign that a bipartisan agreement to create a commission that would probe the riot at the Capitol last month remains elusive. Both sides say they agree with the need for an independent panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission, but they are at odds over the commission’s mandate when it comes to investigating the reasons behind the insurrection at the Capitol – which raises questions about Trump’s role in lying about the election results and inciting supporters who rioted last month.
Still, Pelosi suggested that the initial sticking point Republicans had raised – the makeup of who is on the commission – could be resolved. The speaker’s draft plan included the House and Senate congressional leaders naming two members each, with President Joe Biden naming another two and the chair, making the breakdown seven Democrats to four Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California sent a response to Pelosi demanding equal representation, and other Republicans have followed suit.
Pelosi argued Thursday that the number of commissioners for each side wasn’t the issue. “That’s not the point, though; that’s easily negotiated,” she said when asked about an even split. “The point is the scope. If you don’t know your why, if you don’t have your purpose as to what the purpose of this is, then the rest of it is not the important part of the conversation.”
Several key Senate Democrats said Thursday that they supported giving the commission an even representation of Democrats and Republicans, citing the leaders of the 9/11 Commission, which also had even representation.
“The leaders of the 9/11 Commission said part of why it was so successful is that it was even, it was balanced and led by folks who were well respected and well regarded who had a reputation for working across the aisle,” Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said on CNN’s “New Day” on Thursday. “I think it’s important that we have a balanced January 6 commission.”
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, also said Thursday that he thinks the commission should be equal.
“I’d like to suggest it be balanced,” Durbin told reporters. “And I suggest the key to it – much like the 9/11 Commission – take two people like Governor Kean and Lee Hamilton, who are widely respected … and have that as a starting point.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said Wednesday that he hoped the House would take up a bill to create the commission next month. In the House, Pelosi would not need Republicans’ support if all Democrats voted for the legislation. But in the Senate, some Republican backing would be needed to overcome a filibuster.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican in GOP leadership, said he wouldn’t support the commission unless it is evenly split. “I’d be supportive of a commission only if it had the broad bipartisan quality of the 9/11 Commission,” he told reporters.
Johnson, who has defended his comments at the Senate hearing, said Thursday it was “unfortunate” that Pelosi was attacking him over them. At the hearing on the security failures at the Capitol, Johnson read from an account in a conservative publication of someone who suggested that left-wing agitators and “fake” Trump supporters were responsible for the attack and that Trump voters wouldn’t attack police. These claims have been widely debunked. Democrats – and some Republicans – have criticized Johnson’s comments.
“I really want to get the truth, the unvarnished whole truth,” Johnson said Thursday. “I’m hoping whatever happens, whether it’s the joint committee or some kind of commission, we don’t have a preconceived notion of exactly what happened.”
Coons said Thursday that the selection of those who serve on the commission was vitally important – arguing that politics should be taken out of it by keeping current politicians off the panel.
“It’s going to have to be done by folks who are not currently serving or seeking office, folks who are not politically motivated in how they get to the bottom of this,” Coons said.
CNN’s Ryan Nobles contributed to this report.