The House voted Wednesday to approve legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate the violent insurrection on January 6 at the US Capitol, with 35 Republicans breaking with their party to support the bill.
The final vote was 252-175. The GOP defections showcased a significant break with Republican leadership in the chamber and former President Donald Trump, who urged members to vote against the legislation.
The bill now moves to the Senate where it faces an uncertain fate as GOP resistance is growing.
Wednesday’s vote, which came as some Republicans have tried to downplay the violence that occurred on January 6 and align themselves with Trump’s version of reality, was still opposed by most rank-and-file Republicans, after House GOP leaders mobilized against the agreement that had been struck by fellow Republican Rep. John Katko of New York.
The margins are an important indicator because just how many House Republicans are willing to buck their party leadership may offer an early signal for how many GOP senators could back the bill. Supporters of the plan will need at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to join all 50 Democrats in the chamber in order to overcome a 60-vote filibuster and pass the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he is opposed to the bill but wouldn’t tell reporters if he’d actively whip his fellow Republicans against it. Moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Wednesday changes would have to be made to the bill before she could support it.
As the path forward on the January 6 commission bill is growing increasingly rocky in the Senate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN “of course” he would pursue a select committee to investigate what happened on January 6 if the bill to create an independent commission fails in the Senate.
“We are going to pursue this one way or the other,” Hoyer said. “Any attempt to obfuscate, to hide and dissemble will not succeed.”
Ahead of the vote, Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s office sent a letter to members informing them that the leadership was now advocating Republicans vote against the legislation, which was a reversal from GOP leadership’s previous position to not lobby their members on the measure.
The vote marks an end to a four-month-long stalemate over negotiations, as Republicans and Democrats struggled to agree on the focus and scope of a commission. While Democrats had wanted the commission to focus exclusively on the events leading to January 6, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others had suggested that the panel also investigate Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, Antifa, and the death of Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans, who was killed outside the Capitol in April.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, to work with Katko, who was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump, to put together this deal. When Thompson and Katko announced last week that they had reached a deal, McCarthy told reporters he had not read through the proposal or signed off on it, foreshadowing that Republicans were not in lockstep on their position on the legislation.
Thompson tried to discredit the narrative McCarthy has been peddling, that he wasn’t included in negotiations in the lead up to the deal’s announcement, on Wednesday ahead of the vote.
“It’s quite unfortunate that the Minority Leader has, at the last moment, raised issues that, basically, we had gone past, and there was no issue, despite all his talk now. But I guess that’s politics,” Thompson told reporters on Wednesday.
The bill lawmakers voted on would create a 10-person commission, with each party getting an equal number of appointments and subpoena power, a key provision that McCarthy had said he wanted early on in negotiations. The legislation tasks the panel with examining “the facts and circumstances of the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy.”
McCarthy announces opposition Tuesday
In a statement Tuesday announcing his opposition to the deal, McCarthy accused Pelosi, a California Democrat, of failing to negotiate in good faith, argued that a commission would get in the way of investigations already underway and said any commission needed to look at episodes of political violence beyond January 6.
“Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” McCarthy said.
Pelosi responded to McCarthy’s opposition to the deal in a statement by saying, “Democrats made repeated efforts to seek a bipartisan compromise. But Leader McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer.”
Despite McCarthy’s opposition, Katko told reporters on Tuesday that he still believed the bill was a good deal.
“I appreciate that he’s allowing us to vote the way we want to vote, and I appreciate him respecting the fact that we brought the bill to a good place. And not everyone is going to agree on every bill,” Katko said.
When pressed on McCarthy’s opposition, Katko pushed back, arguing, “I’m not sure he said it was a bad deal, but he doesn’t ultimately support it, and that’s fine. It’s his prerogative, but he’s allowing it to go forward and we are going forward with it. And that speaks volumes of him as a leader.”
Katko said he did not know that he did not have McCarthy’s support when it was first announced that a deal had been reached last week but said, “It doesn’t matter.”
“People can disagree, but I appreciate the way he’s handled this and he’s appreciated the way I’ve handled this,” he said.
Democratic leaders seek bipartisan support
The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 29 Democratic and 29 Republican House lawmakers who include Katko, said in a news release late Tuesday that the group endorses the bill.
But McCarthy’s opposition has left many rank-and-file Republicans undecided about where they stand.
Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican who’s a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus and told CNN he will support the bill, commented on how McCarthy’s opposition to the legislation is affecting members.
“People aren’t sure what they’re doing on this. I think they’re still debating it,” Bacon said.
Several Republicans have echoed McCarthy’s concerns about the narrow scope of the commission in explaining their opposition in the lead-up to the vote.
“The Republican leader wants a broader mandate, which I certainly think is appropriate,” said GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. “I don’t know what we are going to be looking at without … looking at the Officer Evans tragedy, so you just never know.”
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma told CNN, “I’m not pleased with what I’ve seen so far,” adding, “though I got to compliment both the chairman and the ranking member. They worked hard, but I’d like to see something more expansive than we’ve seen.”
Republicans who voted to impeach Trump show support for commission
All 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump voted in support of the commission on Wednesday.
Even though House Republican leadership encouraged members to vote against the bill, some GOP lawmakers came out strongly in support of the legislation or at least hinted ahead of the vote they were leaning toward getting on board. Over the weekend, Republican Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Fred Upton of Michigan joined Katko in coming out in strong support of the bipartisan deal.
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, another of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, outlined why he is supporting the bill.
“I think it’s necessary just given what actually happened on that day and all the buildup. I think it’s important that you know when the country and the Capitol is attacked that way that we take a full accounting and figure out how to prevent it going forward,” Gonzalez said.
Bacon, in explaining why he will support the legislation, told CNN, “We should know why security was ill prepared and broken that day.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an ally of Cheney who also voted to impeach Trump and has been increasingly critical of McCarthy, also came out in support of the January 6 commission ahead of the vote.
“We cannot let fear stop us from doing what is right. This week, I will proudly vote in support of the bipartisan January 6th commission and hope it is successful in shedding light on the truth,” the Illinois Republican said in a statement.
But the Republican split in the House over the January 6 commission legislation has led to further confusion in the Senate.