When the violent mob finally dispersed from the Capitol late on January 6, it left behind a troubling choice that Republican congressional leaders are only now being forced to make.
This week, they had to decide whether to fulfill their constitutional oath by supporting a full and independent investigation of that day's terrible events, which inevitably will reveal all the dimensions of former President Donald Trump's responsibility for the insurrection, or to surrender to Trump by attempting to kill that investigation while muttering excuses that only underline their cowardly dereliction.
We know how that went. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with a majority of their caucuses, showed abject obedience to the would-be dictator, who now rules the Republican Party with a clenched fist. He publicly ordered the pair of them to oppose the National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex, as the legislation is titled, and they heeled like whipped dogs.
Considering the stakes, that was an especially disgraceful way for elected officials in a democracy to behave. In the immediate wake of the insurrection, both McConnell and McCarthy made statements showing that they understood what had happened and why accountability is essential. Both then flinched from holding Trump accountable through impeachment. Instead, they implied support of an empowered investigative commission — similar to those created after Pearl Harbor, former President Kennedy's assassination and the September 11 attacks.
Let's be clear about what led to this low moment. With very little reason to trust either McConnell or McCarthy, House Democrats nevertheless negotiated in good faith with their Republican counterparts on the House Homeland Security Committee to create legislation reflecting a bipartisan commission. Specifically, all of McCarthy's views, no matter how specious or silly, were incorporated in the final draft that reached the House floor, with the support of the committee's ranking member, Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., and 34 other Republican members including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
Already fearful of Trump's reaction, McCarthy still indicated that leadership wouldn't whip a "no" vote. And McConnell nervously said he was open to supporting the commission. Then the tyrannical dicta was issued from Palm Beach, and suddenly, McCarthy dumped poor Katko and ordered his stooge Rep. Steve Scalise to whip against the bill, while McConnell crumpled, too. The debate was over before it started, because that's how tyranny rolls.
The explanations offered by these contemptible men deserve little or no comment. It suffices to contrast their flaccid approach to investigating January 6 with their unquenchable zeal to probe the far less consequential Benghazi tragedy, which they believed would harm a Democratic presidential contender (as McCarthy so memorably and stupidly boasted at the time).
There can be no valid reason to oppose the January 6 commission, and they all know it. The only sincere opponents are those such as the fledgling fascists of the "America First Caucus," who support the objectives of the insurrection and seek to destroy democracy.
The commission's mandate is not, as Sen. John Thune so feebly complained, "relitigating the 2020 election." That election ended last November with a decisive defeat for Trump; only he and his cult are still trying to "litigate" it, as Thune well knows.
The investigation of January 6 — and that investigation will continue, in grand juries and congressional committees, if not a bipartisan commission — is absolutely critical to the defense of the nation from an internal threat that includes but is not limited to the Trumpist cult. We must know every dimension of that tragic event, along with every measure required to curb its recurrence and uproot its instigators.
If Trump believed that an independent investigation would clear him of culpability for the insurrection, he could be expected to encourage it. But he appears terrified of what America would learn from a probe with subpoena power and skilled forensics. He may already know what the rest of us only suspect — namely, that he, his cohort and his militants contrived to assault the Capitol in a coup attempt against the constitutional process that sealed his electoral defeat.
Only ten Republican senators are needed to step forward with the courage and wisdom to perform their obvious duty. But they are all far more likely to fail, and history will despise them for it.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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