The January 6 Committee has played its final hand: referring former President Donald J. Trump for potential criminal prosecution.
Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin did not mince words in addressing the decision:
This is a good summary of how most conservatives have viewed the January 6 Committee since its inception in the summer of 2021. Made up of 7 Democrats and 2 Republicans – both of whom voted to impeach Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection – the committee and its findings were clearly biased from the outset.
The committee had no real power beyond the ability to issue subpoenas. Describing a simple investigation as a “grievous abuse of power” minimizes the many instances in which American politicians really have engaged in horrific overreach, like FDR extorting Supreme Court justices who refused to uphold New Deal programs, the FBI spying on innocent Americans, and, most recently, Joe Biden illegally attempting to cancel half a trillion in student loan debt. In comparison the January 6 Committee is little more than pretentious showmanship.
But Levin’s main point is rooted in truth. The committee is devoid of ideological diversity. It was praised as “bipartisan,” but Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger had each made a name for themselves as two of Trump’s most outspoken Republican foes; both endorsed Democrats in tight races during the last election. With no “Trump supporter” around to counter Democratic talking points, it is no wonder most conservatives quickly lost faith in this committee.
Unfortunately, it was the obstinance – or perhaps the calculated plans – of Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that suppressed real Republican representation on the January 6 Committee.
In May 2021, a bill to establish an independent, bicameral commission to investigate January 6 passed the House with the support of thirty-five Republicans. The commission would have given Republicans equal subpoena powers – a major concession from congressional Democrats. But due to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s opposition, the bill died in the Senate.
By the end of June, Pelosi decided to form a “Select Committee” in the House. The congressional resolution called for the appointment of 13 members: 8 to be chosen by Pelosi, and 5 by McCarthy, but subject to Pelosi’s approval. Pelosi nominated seven Democrats and Republican Liz Cheney. McCarthy nominated Jim Banks, Jim Jordan, Rodney Davis, Kelly Armstrong, and Troy Nehls. Three of his picks – Nehls, Armstrong, and Davis – were approved, even though Nehls had voted against the certification of the 2020 election.
But Pelosi refused to lend her blessing to Banks and Jordan, saying they had both made statements which “ma[d]e it impossible for them to exercise judgment … this is about seeking the truth.” Below is an example of one of these statements from Banks:
Yes, Banks used his opening salvo to undermine the legitimacy, character, and purpose of his new committee. But he also promised to “give the American people the facts” and find answers to “questions so far ignored.” Needless to say, Pelosi’s justification for her decision was weak.
That said, McCarthy’s response was also unreasonable. Any one of the other 210 Republicans in Congress would have leapt at the opportunity to serve. Instead, McCarthy withdrew his entire slate of nominations and allowed the committee to be formed without Republican participation.
This move was just as political in nature as the way in which Democrats ran the committee. Rather than take on the difficult task of going head-to-head with Democrats on questions of election fraud, Donald Trump, and his role in the riot that injured more than a hundred cops, it was easier to turn the party against the investigation itself.
Thus McCarthy was able to shift the paradigm of the January 6 debate overnight. Conservatives had no reason to trust the narrative of a partisan committee; liberals had no reason to doubt it.
A truly bipartisan committee could have allowed conservatives to clarify what happened on January 6 and unite behind a fact-based, defensible narrative. Instead, McCarthy’s decision to turn Republicans against the inquiry from the start prevented the GOP from settling its internal divisions over the causes and implications of January 6. What’s more, the choice not to particpiate damanged Donald Trump by preventing his conservative allies from offering a passionate, public defense of his innocence. Considering Republicans’ disappointing performance in the midterms, it is quite possible that this was a miscalculation.
It is an act of cowardice, not virtue, to purposefully remove oneself from a consequential national debate. It is childish to complain that it’s all unfair, rather than acknowledge the issue at hand and seek the truth.
McCarthy may have successfully united his party against the committee, but only at the cost of our ability to persuade.