• on May 28, 2021

Congress failed to create a Jan. 6th commission. Now what?

The January 6th attack on the Capitol Building was unprecedented in the history of American democracy. Domestic insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in search of legislators, in an attempt to block the certification of Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election. Quite simply, it was a coup attempt. Five people died during or as a result of the attack, including one police officer. Blood was spilled inside the Capitol and while the transfer of power between former President Trump and President Biden occurred, it was not peaceful. 

Since the attack, congressional Democrats have led the effort to investigate what happened and hold those responsible for the attack accountable. Most Congressional Republicans, whose very lives were among those threatened, have done almost nothing to investigate the attack. 

A bill which would create an independent commission to investigate the January 6th attack passed the House with the support of only 35 Republicans. That same bill went on to fail in the Senate, only garnering 6 Republican votes.

Such a poor showing from congressional Republicans is unsurprising for several reasons. For one thing, many elected Republicans cheered on, spoke with, or found common cause with the insurrectionists that attacked the Capitol on January 6th. It would be a lie to suggest that all Republicans were dissatisfied with how the attack unfolded, Former President Trump certainly wasn’t.

Another reason is that both the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke out against the commission, rallying opposition against it. Some Republicans are voicing their own objections, citing the political need to stop talking about the events surrounding the 2020 election.

Now that the January 6th commission failed, what does that mean for our country?

In the short term, Democrats are expected to hold their own investigation. While elected Republicans may be left out of the investigatory process, they will not be spared the embarrassment of having Democrats uncover the facts surrounding an insurrection against the United States government, incited by the leader of the Republican Party. Uncovering all of the facts surrounding the January 6th attack is vital because without truth and accountability, we have no deterrent to future would-be insurrectionists bent on overthrowing elections.

More troubling is that since the attack no serious effort has been undertaken to address the true cause of the attack, the false conviction that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, a lie invented and spread by Trump himself. Even more serious is that no one knows what effect Trump’s lies about the election will have on our country in the long-term. 

It is no small thing that millions of Americans lost their faith in the integrity of our elections. What happens if Republicans control Congress and a Democrat wins the White House in 2024? Can the country really have the confidence that a Democratic win would be certified? Or, what happens when better armed and better organized insurrectionists come back to the Capitol to protest a different election they believe was stolen?

One of the many troubling aspects of the attack on the Capitol is that it outlines a plan for others to follow in the future. From the creation of the instigating lie, to the attack itself and the cover up afterwards – Republican leaders laid the blueprint for more and worse attacks. For this reason, establishing a commission to investigate the attack is critical. Would-be insurrectionists need to know that such behavior cannot be forgotten, excused, or absolved. 

One danger of crises like the Capitol coup attempt is that, over time, people can numb to the dangers. Should we be subject to another attack like the January 6th insurrection, the shock we felt earlier this year will lessen, and our tolerance for political violence will grow. For this reason, preventing future attacks is extremely important.

Establishing a commission to uncover the facts surrounding January 6th was supposed to be the first step in educating the country of the election lies freely spread by Trump and uncovering its violent consequences. Now without the commission, thanks to congressional Republicans, our country and our democracy are at greater risk for future attacks.

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