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Congress held its first hearing about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot last week. Three former security officials, each of whom resigned in the wake of that attack, testified on Tuesday as part of a joint investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules Committee.
That hearing offered important insights, like the failure to communicate and share intelligence ahead of the riot. But it also included its share of finger pointing among the witnesses and factually challenged grandstanding among the lawmakers asking the questions.
In short, the proceedings made a great case for the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to dive deeper into the facts, failures and causes of the events of Jan. 6. Such a commission could avoid the political production on display last week.
Even as lawmakers serving on various congressional committees investigate different aspects of the riot, it is obvious — and has been for some time — that a 9/11 Commission-style group should conduct an investigation more insulated from the political arena.
During impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump, Republicans proposed such a commission as an alternative to impeachment. But it never should have been an “either/or” proposition. A less political, in-depth accounting of the terrible events of Jan. 6 and its security failures shouldn’t be a bargaining chip — it should be an inevitable function of responsible and responsive government.
Just weeks ago, it appeared that bipartisan support was coalescing around this idea. More recently, however, partisanship has seeped into what should be an easy opportunity for agreement.
Republicans are already pushing back against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s draft commission proposal. And on at least one point, we don’t blame them. Neither do former leaders of the 9/11 Commission, it would seem.
Unlike the 9/11 panel, which was evenly split with five Democratic members and five Republican members (none could be current government officials or employees), Pelosi’s initial proposal calls for 11 members, with seven Democrats and four Republicans.
“That does not sound to me like a good start; it sounds like a partisan beginning,” Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana who served as vice chair of the 9/11 Comission, told Politico last week. Tom Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who chaired the 9/11 Commission, similarly warned that “unless you have equal representation … the report won’t have as much confidence from the American people. It won’t be as reliable.”
We agree. As basic as it should be that this type of commission is created, equal representation of Republicans and Democrats on that commission should also be basic.
One of the biggest values of such a review would be that it wouldn’t be Pelosi’s review, or Mitch McConnell’s review, or even Congress’ review as a whole. It would be an independent review, shielded from politics as much as possible.
Republicans must not use these early disagreements as an excuse to abandon the idea of a commission all together, or ignore the hard truth that falsehoods about the election are relevant to this needed investigation. And Democrats need to realize that a more general look into domestic extremism can and should be conducted separately by Congress. This independent review should focus tightly on what happened at the Capitol and why. None of this should be hard.
As Kean and Hamilton wrote in a recent letter to congressional leaders and President Joe Biden, an investigation similar to the 9/11 Commission could help “establish a single narrative and set of facts to identify how the Capitol was left vulnerable, as well as corrective actions to make the institution safe again.”
The 9/11 Commission had its own stumbles out of the gate in terms of settling on its leadership. But that evenly-divided collection of Republicans and Democratic appointees provided a less political pathway for a much-needed, and mostly well-received, review, and it’s a pathway that lawmakers should take now to better understand the facts and failures of Jan. 6.