My Two Cents on a 1/6 Commission

We need what we aren't going to get.

Not surprisingly, I have thoughts on a 1/6 commission and so let me follow on from James Joyner’s post this morning. I will say this: James is correct that the stated goal, a “bipartisan, 9/11-style commission,” is an impossibility. By this, I mean that that formulation assumes a commission somewhat above daily politics that would be treated equally by both parties and their adherents. The nature of 1/6 makes that impossible, even if the Democrats do away with the filibuster to move forward. He is also correct that both sides (dare I use that formulation) are voting with partisan intent. There is no way that Dems voting for this don’t know that it is to their electoral advantage to have a “bipartisan, 9/11-style commission” and Reps, well they full well know talking about this is not to their advantage in the least.

Now, I also think that most/all Dems also want a commission because we (as in the country) need one (the same reason a handful of Rs crossed over). I also think that all Reps voting against it are doing do to save their own partisan skins and are not taking the country’s interest into consideration. That may sound harsh to some, but show me evidence otherwise if your ire is raised by my statement. I am ever persuadable, but only with evidence.

At the end of the day, such a commission is never going to be treated as bipartisan by most Republicans, should it even come to exist (although I do think it would be better to play that game than the route we are likely going to take which is some kind of investigation that can be tagged as partisan).

So, let’s be serious about exactly what such a commission will produce. It will not produce a report that everyone is going to accept. (Although to be clear, I am not saying that that matters–whatever such a mythical commission would produce would be superior to whatever we are going to get). It is not going to produce something like the Warren Report or the 9/11 commission’s report that is largely accepted as a serious set of conclusions to accepted in some consensus fashion.

Let’s stop making the 9/11 comparison. It simply isn’t apt. There is joke based on an old horror movie that “the call is coming from inside the house” and that is what we saw on 1/6 (but you should capitalize the “h” in House). The Republican Party is complicit in the 1/6 attacks and they know it and they don’t want to talk about it (would you?).

Look, the reality is that the US Capitol was attacked with, at a minimum, the tacit approval of the President of the United States, the Republican Donald Trump who is still the nominal head of the party. Further, even after the building was assaulted, 147 members of the Republican Party voted to not accept the results of some state’s electoral votes. That vote was a brazen rejection of democracy that was in perfect thematic concert with the insurrectionists. They did so because they thought it was to their electoral advantage–and that was in the context of the insurrection just having happened! As time passes it has become even clearer to them (and many other co-partisans) that ignoring 1/6 is to their advantage.

Mitch McConnell, to his short-lived credit, gave a speech on the floor of the Senate not long before the assault and stated, as it pertained to voting not to certify the election:

It would be unfair and wrong to disenfranchise American voters and overrule the courts and the states on this thin basis.

And I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.

I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it.

And yes, I understand that he helped give oxygen to Trump and his allies’ efforts in a cynical way between Election Dy and 1.6. And yes, I fully understand that speech was an attempt to distance himself, and the GOP, from Trump going forward.

Now he realizes he can’t do that, so we are getting this lame position from the Minority Leader:

At the heart of this recommendation by the Democrats is that they would like to continue to debate things that occurred in the past. They’d like to continue to litigate the former president into the future.

On the on hand this is true: there is a desire to debate the past.

On the other, this is what those in the wrong often assert: that we should move beyond the past because they know that in said past is where their malfeasance dwells.

Seriously: by this kind of logic we could never have trials because they are, by definition, focused on the past.

McConnell wants to act like some weird Doctor Who alien who only exists in the present and cannot see its own past.

It is clear that he has no principled position on this issue save whatever he thinks is best for his party at the ballot box. As such, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) is correct when she asks “Is that really what this is about, one election cycle after another?” Yes, it is (and is always part of the equation, and also why a 2-year cycle is a bad idea).

Both parties understand the electoral implications of the situation. The Democrats simply have the advantage of having their electoral needs align with the country’s overall needs–and that is the goal of representative democracy. The problem is: the current rules of the Senate preclude the Democrats from doing so in the now (although, it is worth noting that it is ultimately division within their own caucus that is stopping them). Worse, however, the various flaws in our system, which I will not list now, give the Reps advantages going into the 2022 mid-terms that they are not willing to risk by having an open inquiry into 1/6 that can be called “bipartisan.”

Look, it seems to manifestly obvious to me that a physical attack on the US Capitol requires a serious inquiry. We, as a country, need to understand how we got to that point and what roles were played, if any, by persons in power. We also need to simply better understand how to prevent such outcomes in the future.

The best outcome could be: a truly bipartisan commission passed by large numbers of both parties.

The second best would be: the Democrats set aside the filibuster and pass this legislation.

The third best: House and Senate hearings (or a presidential panel).

The worst: nothing.

Let’s be clear: a mob overran security at the seat of federal legislative power in an attempt to disrupt the constitutionally mandated process of the formal selection of the chief executive of the United States. If that doesn’t deserve a serious inquiry, I am not sure what does. And it is highly problematic, in my view, that a counter-majoritarian body using further counter-majoritarian rules within that chamber, is the roadblock to such an inquiry. What’s worse is this is not happening because of some deep principle in the population that needs protecting (like, say, using counter-majoritarian rules to protect a religious or ethnic minorities’ rights). No, this is being done to protect the minority political party from having its own guilt exposed as it pertains to an insurrection aimed at the US Capitol.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    The second best would be: the Democrats set aside the filibuster and pass this legislation.

    I’ve been wondering what the narrowest filibuster change would be, and whether Manchin and Sinema (or, more amusingly, two Republicans) would vote to cut the limit to 55 for bipartisan commissions.

    But, knowing our current Republican Party, I think they would simply refuse to name people to the bipartisan commission, so it wouldn’t start.

    So, given the world we live in, I think House or Senate hearings are the best option. And that the hearings should have rules that somehow forbid Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Marjory Taylor Greene from sitting on it.

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  2. James Knauer says:

    Democrats retain subpoena power in both chambers of Congress. 35 House Republicans in theory support a hearing, likely now a select committee.

    Meanwhile, over 400+ people will be convicted of federal felonies related to insurrection in trials that will be news through the end of this year at least. The GOP will have to defend itself against this awful backdrop, pretending like nothing happened, and that the U.S. contains only members of Trump’s cult.

    This does not take in account the legal jeopardy of the former President. There’s every possibility certain legal streams could cross… Trump/Insurrection… Trump/Rudy… Trump/Gaetz… the GOP has no winning hand to play here as any ideas for 2022 are squished into orange jelly.

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    I agree.

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  4. Erik says:

    What if the Democrats set up hearings and invited republicans who voted for the commission (or failing that, prominent Republicans who have spoken out in favor of an accounting) to join the committee? It wouldn’t win over a lot of Republicans, and there would be plenty of RINO screams, but it might just start to pull Republican voters who still want democracy in the USA to shift their support away from the authoritarians. [sorry, I admit that I am no where near qualified to proffer a thought on this topic so feel free to delete, ignore, or destroy this idea]

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  5. Mikey says:

    Let’s be clear: a mob overran security at the seat of federal legislative power in an attempt to disrupt the constitutionally mandated process of the formal selection of the chief executive of the United States.

    And they did it at the behest of the loser, who, with the assistance of nearly every member of his party’s congressional delegation, created and propagated the biggest lie in American political history.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    Yes, nothing I disagree with here, either, except maybe a quibble:

    The best outcome could be: a truly bipartisan commission passed by large numbers of both parties.

    Fully concur.

    The second best would be: the Democrats set aside the filibuster and pass this legislation.

    The third best: House and Senate hearings (or a presidential panel).

    The worst: nothing.

    I’m not sure I have a strong preference among two and three and think the last is a non-option.

    That is, given the partisan environment we both agree exists, I think the Dems getting rid of the filibuster to create a commission that we agree will have next to no legitimacy with the 75 million Americans who voted for Trump may well exacerbate the situation. I think a Congressional/Presidential panel may therefore be slightly better but ultimately meaningless.

    But “do nothing” isn’t going to happen. One, as noted upthread, we’re prosecuting hundreds of people and presumably continuing the investigations. Two, we’ll continue to have political debates with Dems trying to continue to hang this around the necks of Republicans. Whether that will matter given the vagaries of the primary system and partisan gerrymandering is another matter.

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  7. There were 10 Committees that investigated the Nrnghaxi attack

    We need at least one to investigate the worst attack on the Capitol building since the War of 1812.

    If the Senate won’t sign on then the House should do it itself

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  8. dazedandconfused says:

    I believe it is mostly political gamesmanship (NTTAWWT).

    As much as a commission is unquestionably warranted I feel it must be mentioned that law enforcement is currently in the process of digging out all the details to prosecute the perps. Congressional snooping around carries potential of complicating those investigations, even doing catastrophic damage to criminal investigations, and the resultant cases against the perps. The Ted Cruze’s and Gym Jordan’s stand at gain access to the details of on-going criminal investigations, nothing good is likely to come of that.

    So in a way I am glad to see this effort fail. I believe those criminal cases will suss out all there is to suss and will keep the issue in the news, which IM cynical O is what the commission was really about anyway. LE doesn’t get labeled a bi-partisan commission but it’s about the closest thing to one we have left to one at the moment.

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The DOJ is not going to fully investigate the roles that members of Congress played in this because, “politics”. Short of finding a recording of a Sen or Rep engaged in a planning meeting with Proud Boys or 3 Percenters, there will be no charges filed against any elected Republicans, and whatever evidence the DOJ does collect will be buried behind a “No Charges Filed” wall of silence.

    The only chance we have of finding out what if any participation by members of Congress there was is thru Congressional investigations. It would be nice if members of the GOP participated in a constructive manner but that isn’t going to happen.

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  10. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    The serial Benghazi hearings were seen by every attentive observer as partisan hackery, but they got a lot press and, in the end, they damaged Mrs. Clinton as she approached her candidacy for President.

    Democrats control the chairs of committees on both sides of Congress. I hope the Dems give the cowardly Republican Senators a reason to rue their votes against the bipartisan committee. Hyper-partisan hearings may not change the minds of the any attentive observers, but a stink can still be raised that might settle on the pro-seditionists by the time it comes for the low-information voters to cast their ballots in 2022 and 2024.

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    Yes, as Dr. T points out, both sides are looking for partisan advantage. Another example of how the beauty thing about being liberal is that you can do well by doing good. Ds want the truth to come out, Rs fear it.

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    @dazedandconfused: I’d be happy to trade some of the criminal prosecutions for an understanding of just what Trump, McCarthy, the Taylor Greene person, and the rest did.

    As @OzarkHillbilly: points out, law enforcement will proceed with a goal of convicting the perps. They won’t try to convict Trump, nor investigate his actions. There’s an off chance they might go after the Taylor Greene person or other Reps if their buddies roll on them. But any offense will likely be gray area and prosecutors won’t be eager to go there. Even with Merrick Garland DOJ is already showing unfortunate signs of not wanting to rock the boat.

    Congress may hold hearings, but the GOPs will stonewall and fight any subpoenas Once all is said and done, we’ll have gone after the small fry, and only the small fry. Per usual. The big fish will have learned they can get away with aiding and abetting insurrection.

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  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not sure I have a strong preference among two and three and think the last is a non-option.

    It may be a non-option, but it’s the only option that 17 Republicans will agree to. A few hundred years from now, when American history is discussed in the context of a “once great nation,” some will be discussing what is the worst that could have happened if the Union had just let the South walk away instead of fighting to preserve the cancer that had grown in it.

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  14. dazedandconfused says:

    @gVOR08:

    I agree with the sentiment and would like a deeper understanding of what was in those noggins, but view an effort to discover what they were thinking problematic, if not Quixotic. The only source of that information is themselves and they are demonstrably pathological liars who can rationalize pretty much anything into an internal truth.

    Congress can’t convict in a legal sense, that takes a criminal trial. Moreover the ability to discover facts is at least as strong in the judicial as it is for congress. I’m at a loss to think of any facts which congress might find which the FBI can not.

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  15. I wish I could upvote this post.

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  16. de stijl says:

    Politics utterly aside.

    I strongly desire that another breach of the capital complex does not happen again. Looking at the last successful attempt seems like a very fucking good idea.

    FFS, fuck you McConnell and your dopey colleagues.

    That cannot happen again. Ever. By whomever.

    1/6 cannot happen again and we must do our best to prevent future incursions.

    Am I surprised this got politicized? A little. This is their turf that got invaded. I expected a rational response. Silly me.

    Everything nowadays gets politicized.

    Imagine an out of control BLM rally invaded the Senate and tried for the House too.

    Imagine the reaction.

    Seriously, imagine that.

    What would the reaction be?

    Imagine the Clive Bundy situation racially different.

    Bundy’s son is now running for governor.

    It is out of control. We have to deal with this madness.

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  17. senyordave says:

    Most of the Republicans in the Senate care only about staying in office and power. IMO some of them are traitors, and that certainly includes McConnell. Manchin and the others preaching bipartisanship sound like naive fools. Rick Wilson had a series of tweets where he nails the situation:
    3/ More important in their minds is something darker. They see the majority in their grasp, and just as they did in the states this year, they’ll strike quickly, mercilessly, and without a moment of hesitation of a scintilla of shame to make the next election the last.
    4/ For them, the problem wasn’t an attack on our republic and a democratic election. For Kevin and Co, the problem was that it didn’t work the first time. They need the shock and awe, the spectacle, the Trumphadi terror threat out there.
    5/ This zero-sum game of power/not-power is what the Democrats never, ever, ever grasp. This year in the states, the GOP — directed and assisted by Heritage Action — has passed sweeping voter restrictions. Democrats couldn’t mount a response. They played defense.
    6/ Even now, too many think policy will save them. “But our climate plan” or “but our control gun plan” or “but our daycare plan” isn’t politics. It’s masturbation. The bad guys are willing to send people to kill you and you respond with a white paper? GTFO.
    7/ This is why the Democrats should stop negotiation over a January 6th commission and just freaking DO it. Do you think some kind of bipartisan comity and goodwill will be lost somehow? THEY SENT PEOPLE TO KILL YOU. Get a goddamned grip. Play offense. Drag them.
    Eff the idea of a bipartisan commission, just get an investigation going. I’m guessing that we will never no the full extent of the treachery of some in the House and Senate (I would bet money that some knew full well what was planned and assisted in it, whether through “special tours” or even helping with planning), but stop the idiocy of assuming McConnell, et al. will somehow “see the light” and do the right thing. McConnell would sell out his own children for the right price.

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  18. gVOR08 says:

    @de stijl:

    Am I surprised this got politicized? A little. This is their turf that got invaded. I expected a rational response. Silly me.

    Both McConnell and McCarty had rational responses in the heat of the immediate aftermath. Then they walked them back when they saw how the base reacted. And probably how their donors reacted. Gutless, careerist, spit weasels.

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  19. Tony says:

    @de stijl: Bundy’s son is a bigger terrorist than he is.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    @senyordave: ok, but what do you want to do about it?

    You have a large minority of the country supporting a party that is becoming committed to antidemocratic minority rule, and you have a significant chunk of the majority party who believe that the current system can work… so, what next?

    Biden declares himself dictator for life, rounds up the traitors, and stages public executions, and then starts the Second Reconstruction (this time with ice cream!)?

    If not, why not?

    I mean that seriously. If you believe that the Republicans are undermining democracy to the point where this was the last marginally fair election, why is that not the right action?

    What’s the reasonable response before that, which is a little less violent-revolution-y? And what do you do when that fails?

    Part of the reason a lot of the moderates are pretending that this is a situation than can be fixed with a little more effort is because they don’t like the alternative if it isn’t.

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  21. Barry says:

    @dazedandconfused: “That is, given the partisan environment we both agree exists, I think the Dems getting rid of the filibuster to create a commission that we agree will have next to no legitimacy with the 75 million Americans who voted for Trump may well exacerbate the situation. I think a Congressional/Presidential panel may therefore be slightly better but ultimately meaningless.”

    James, you are insisting that we conduct our nation’s affairs with the losers not only having a thousands vetos, even above and beyond what the laws and rules require.

    Even after they clearly are using them to support their attack on the country.

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  22. Barry says:

    @Barry: sorry, I mixed things up.

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  23. Ken_L says:

    The four options omit what to me is the obvious one: a presidential commission along the lines of LBJ’s Warren Commission, established by executive order. The Kennedy assassination involved a criminal attack on the heart of the government. An investigation was necessary to explore the extent, if any, to which the crime was the result of a wider conspiracy, and if so, who participated in it. Any involvement by foreign governments or domestic agencies was of special interest. It also investigated any shortcomings in security that allowed the crime to be carried out, and in the subsequent law enforcement handling of the matter. All of these are directly comparable to the events of January 6, making a presidential commission a much more appropriate precedent than the 9/11 Commission which Democrats inexplicably adopted as their benchmark.

    The president could surely find commission members and staff whom all but the rank partisan warriors would accept as having no personal agendas to promote in an investigation. Its report would be much more likely to get broad acceptance than any Congressional committee’s.

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  24. @James Joyner:

    I think the Dems getting rid of the filibuster to create a commission that we agree will have next to no legitimacy with the 75 million Americans who voted for Trump may well exacerbate the situation

    I think at this point almost anything will exacerbate the situation. As such, I think that demonstrating the importance of an investigation via so dramatic an action has potential upsides as well.

    If we are doing hard political calculations, it is clear that the Reps fear a bipartisan commission more than any other outcome, which means they think it will change some people’s minds. They clearly think it would be more damning to them than a regular congressional investigation. Does that not suggest that that is because they think it would be more revelatory?

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  25. @Ken_L: That possibility is subsumed under option 3 above in the parenthetical.

    And yes, it is a potential route.

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  26. @James Joyner: @Steven L. Taylor: Put another way, if a bipartisan commission report won’t matter at all, why do the Reps oppose it?

    I think the whole “9/11 commission” notion is off base, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some efficacy in a bipartisan commission as opposed to the other routes.

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  27. Paine says:

    You’d the think the Republic party would want to reveal to the country that antifa and BLM were behind the 1/6 insurrection. Go figure…

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  28. dazedandconfused says:

    @de stijl:
    It’s a safe bet that for the foreseeable future demonstrations by anyone for anything in DC will have enormous security oversight.

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