Where Will the House Inquiry on the Capitol Riot Go?

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We spoke with our congressional reporter Luke Broadwater about how the committee will work, and how Republicans see it.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, with Capitol Police officers, members of Officer Brian Sicknick’s family and other members of Congress after the vote to establish a Jan. 6 committee.
Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Giovanni Russonello

June 30, 2021, 6:22 p.m. ET

The Justice Department is moving aggressively to hold the perpetrators of the Capitol riot accountable, and more than 500 people have already been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.

But until Wednesday, no comprehensive investigation had been opened on Capitol Hill, after Republicans in the Senate beat back an attempt last month to create a bipartisan commission.

That changed on Wednesday afternoon, when House Democrats voted 222 to 190 to establish a special committee that will conduct a far-reaching inquiry into the events of Jan. 6 and their causes. Just two Republicans joined a nearly united Democratic caucus. Since the inquiry has no end date, and is effectively under the aegis of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party, Republicans’ attempts to stymie a grand inquiry into the riot could end up leading to a more aggressive, painful and drawn-out investigation.

Conservative commentators have sought to downplay the severity of the attack since the day it happened, but as shown in a new, 40-minute Times video investigation into the Capitol riot, it’s hard to understand it as anything other than an attempt to directly subvert the functioning of American democracy. Many rioters shown in the video arrived in Washington intent on confrontation, the investigation shows, and they saw themselves as doing the president’s specific bidding.

As the House voted today, Ms. Pelosi had invited several officers who were injured in the attack to watch the proceedings from her box in the House gallery. They included Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police, and two District of Columbia police officers: Michael Fanone, who has lobbied Republicans to support an investigation, and Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a door during the rampage. Relatives of Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died after clashing with the rioters, were to join them.

Luke Broadwater, a congressional reporter, covered today’s vote in the House. I caught up with him for a side conversation about how the committee is likely to work, and whether it could be a threat to Republicans.

House Democrats today voted to establish a special committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Give us a rundown of how that committee will work and what it will investigate. What will it — and won’t it — be empowered to do?

The select committee will have a broad mandate to “investigate and report upon the facts, circumstances and causes relating to the Jan. 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex,” according to the legislation passed by the House today. In particular, it is charged with investigating law enforcement failures, such as intelligence gathering, and the root causes that influenced so many to turn violent, scrutinizing online platforms and any potential “malign foreign influence operations.”

We don’t know everything about how the committee will operate yet, because its members haven’t been named. But there are still a bunch of unanswered questions about the attack, and Democrats in particular want to learn more about the role President Donald Trump played that day and explore any connections between those in Trump’s orbit, the planners of the rally that preceded the mob violence, and right-wing extremist groups.

What role do we expect Republicans to play in this special committee?

That’s unclear so far. Most Republicans opposed the creation of the select committee, but Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, can make five appointments to the panel with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approval.

Pelosi also has indicated she might appoint a Republican to the committee herself. There’s a lot of speculation it could be Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the daughter of a former Republican vice president who has been a harsh critic of Trump and his actions on Jan. 6. There also are a few other options, such as Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, who has been urging his colleagues to move on from Trump after the party lost the White House and both chambers of Congress during his chaotic tenure as president.

G.O.P. leaders have avoided revisiting the Jan. 6 attack, and some have said that a recent Senate investigation into policing failures that day should suffice. But polling shows that a wide majority of Americans disagree. Do Republicans worry that opposing a bipartisan investigation into the causes of the attack could damage their standing with voters ahead of the 2022 midterms?

I would say many Republicans I’ve talked to in Congress think Jan. 6 was a terrible and dark day in American history. There are people in the party clearly living in denial who have said some nutty stuff, but there are many who think assaulting police officers and breaking into Congress should be condemned.

That said, they think further scrutiny of Jan. 6 is a losing issue for their party. They know it was Trump supporters who committed the violence, and they know it was terrible, and they know every day spent talking about Jan. 6 gives Democrats a political advantage. With hopes of winning back the House in 2022, Republicans are hoping to shift the public conversation to problems in the Biden administration, such as issues at the southern border or monetary inflation, rather than the violence that supporters of a Republican president carried out as they tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

On the flip side, how much do Democrats see this special committee as a crucial opportunity to clearly establish Trump’s role in inciting the violence on Jan. 6, particularly as he wades back into the political fray ahead of 2022?

Democrats thought they had a clear case that Trump incited the riot when they impeached him for a second time after the attack. That said, the select committee will give them the opportunity to gather more evidence and interview more witnesses about the siege and Trump’s role in it.

Unlike the independent bipartisan commission that Senate Republicans blocked in May, which would have had to finish its work this year, the select committee is empowered to investigate until it completes its report, with no end date. That means it could potentially hold hearings and issue reports throughout the whole 2022 campaign cycle — or even 2024 — thereby potentially ensuring voters are frequently reminded of the horrors of that day.

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