“Coverup” is a term that two very different congresswomen used in a House debate, on Wednesday, about a bill that would create a bipartisan commission to look into the January 6th assault on the Capitol. One was Val Demings, Democrat of Florida, who supports the idea of a commission; the other was Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, who does not. Demings, who has spent part of the past week putting out the word that she plans to run for the Senate next year, against Marco Rubio, sounded rational. Greene, who took time last week to follow Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and shout at her as she left the Capitol—“Hey, Alexandria! . . . Why do you support terrorists and Antifa?”—did not. (She often doesn’t.) And yet Greene, both on the subject of the proposed commission and in many other areas, is aligned with a majority of her party. Thirty-five Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the commission bill; a hundred and seventy-five did not. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, has said that he will oppose it, meaning that its path in that chamber will be very difficult.
Illustrating the breach between the parties—and between the G.O.P. and reality—Demings, who had served as the police chief of Orlando, spoke about how “insurrectionists” had “attacked, bear-sprayed, and beaten down” officers defending the Capitol. “We need answers,” she said. “We need accountability.” To get both, she added, “we need an independent commission, and a vote against it is a vote for a coverup.” There is a great deal about the events of January 6th that remains blurry or contested, from how supporters of Donald Trump listening to him speak at a rally that day were channelled into a militia-like mob to the response at the Pentagon. The aim of the assault was a disruption of the electoral-vote tally—which could also be described as an attempted coup.
In short, the idea that a commission would be useful should be uncontroversial. Demings said that, on January 6th, “one hundred and forty officers were injured, and we need to care about that.” Many Republicans seem to have willed themselves into a state of not caring about it. One route to obliviousness is by disciplining any Republicans who won’t go along, as with the removal, last week, of Representative Liz Cheney from the Republican House Conference leadership. Another is to express outrage that the commission, and maybe everyone in America, would not, instead, be fixated on last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and any violence that accompanied them.
Indeed, Greene seemed to take the remarkable position that it was somehow self-centered of Congress to be trying to find out why the Capitol was attacked. She began her statement by saying that she opposed the commission “because I believe this institution’s duty is to serve the people of this country and not itself”—as if convening a joint session to certify the peaceful transfer of power was a kind of petty indulgence. For that matter, the mob members who chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” were targeting someone in the executive branch. (The former Vice-President’s brother, Greg Pence, an Indiana congressman, voted against creating the commission.) Greene moved directly to decrying “violent riots in the American cities all over this country,” and the damage to local businesses. (Some, she said, were “Antifa riots.”) Then she got to the point: “You see, what’s going to happen with the January 6th commission is the media is going to use this to smear Trump supporters and President Trump for the next few years and cover up the damage—the real damage—that’s happening to this, to the people of this country, which is tearing down our economy, ripping our borders wide open, and hurting this country.”
This is Greene’s view, but it is not only hers. Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, said on Tuesday that he would oppose the commission because it “does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America.” The entire caucus, in effect, is being encouraged to respond to the events of January 6th by wandering around the Capitol complex shouting “Hey, Alexandria!” McCarthy took this position even though the bill to create the commission—which McCarthy’s ally John Katko, an upstate New York Republican, helped to negotiate with Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat—is strikingly bipartisan. Its structure is explicitly modelled on that of the 9/11 Commission. Each party would choose five of the ten members; commissioners from both parties would have to agree on any subpoenas. But it may be that each step toward bipartisanship made the proposed commission less appealing to the Republicans, precisely because it would make it more credible. Truth is not on the Trumpists’ side. But the G.O.P. is.
The alibi for opposing the commission that McConnell seems to have fixed on is that there are a lot of other investigations under way: prosecutions of alleged members of the mob (more than four hundred have been charged), various committee oversight hearings (studying, for example, how security might be improved going forward), and witnesses asked to give accounts in one forum or the other. But the multifarious state of the reckoning is very much an argument for a commission. Pieces of the story might emerge in this courtroom or that committee chamber, but they need to be brought together in a useful way. As Demings put it, we need answers, not just a proliferation of questions. Under the bill, the commission would be directed to submit its report by December 31st, giving it a focus; it is also supposed to come up with “recommendations to prevent future attacks on our democratic institutions.” Whatever measures those might be should be deliberated openly, in the spotlight that a commission would provide—not cobbled together in different Cabinet departments or pieces of legislation, or neglected entirely.
It is a measure of how far the Republican Party has gone that the thirty-five House G.O.P. votes in favor of creating the commission seemed, by some measures, a lot. It was more than triple the number (ten) who had voted to impeach Trump, but the actions are hardly comparable—this is a bipartisan commission, not an action that could have ended in barring a former President from running again. Before Wednesday’s vote, Trump (whose own legal problems are multiplying) put out a statement saying that the commission would be “just more partisan unfairness and unless the murders, riots, and fire bombings in Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, and New York are also going to be studied, this discussion should be ended immediately.” After the vote, he put out another statement, decrying what he called “35 wayward Republicans.” Trump warned, “Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak.” That admonition might be better directed at his G.O.P. enablers, who are preserving, and even promoting, his fantasy that the 2020 election was stolen. They can’t wanly pretend that January 6th never happened and then be surprised by what Trump and his supporters—or some future version of Trump—might come up with next. And they can’t cover up what their party has become.