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The Jan. 6 Riot Could Have Brought Lawmakers Together. It Did The Opposite

In the weeks since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers from both parties have clashed over creating an outside commission to investigate the riot.
John Minchillo
In the weeks since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers from both parties have clashed over creating an outside commission to investigate the riot.

When Congress reconvened the night of the Jan. 6 riot to finish certifying the Electoral College results, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., huddled with top Democrats on the House floor.

"I was on the dais with [Speaker Nancy Pelosi], and the speaker and I, and also [House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.], had a conversation about a bipartisan approach and a bipartisan commission, or a bicameral commission, to move things forward to find out what went wrong," he told NPR. "Unfortunately that bipartisan discussion didn't last too long."

Davis is Lofgren's GOP counterpart on the House Administration Committee. He was one of the first lawmakers to introduce legislation to establish a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, modeled after the successful, bipartisan commission Congress enacted to investigate the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "We need to figure out what went wrong, and we need to do it in a way that's not partisan," he said.

Davis voted to certify the election results on Jan. 6, but 139 of his House GOP colleagues backed objections raised on the floor to one or both of the counts from Arizona and Pennsylvania. For most Democrats that was an unconscionable act that has eroded trust and affected lawmakers ability to work together.

Last week, Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., broke with tradition and forced a symbolic protest vote on a bill to rename a post office — one of the most mundane activities in Congress — because it was sponsored by Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., who voted to object to the electoral counts in Arizona and Pennsylvania. "I have taken a decision that I'm not going to vote for things that are sponsored by anybody who gained their power through a democratic election and then voted to overturn our democracy," Casten told NPR.

In the nearly two months since the attack, cross party tensions in Congress have intensified in floor debate, in committee hearings, and in personal relationships. At an Oversight Committee hearing last week on the postal service, Rep. Gerry Connolly. D-Va., snapped at Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of former President Donald Trump's most vocal allies in the House, after Jordan accused Democrats of politicizing the postal service to hurt Trump in the election. "I didn't vote to overturn an election. And I will not be lectured by people who did about partisanship," Connolly responded.

The House Natural Resources Committee recently changed their rules to explicitly ban guns in their committee room, a decision seemingly targeted at one Republican: freshman and gun rights enthusiast Lauren Boebert of Colorado. Democrats have criticized her for tweeting about the whereabouts of Speaker Pelosi during the Jan. 6 invasion, and for her advocacy to carry a handgun on the House floor.

"Whatever your fetishes or feelings are about guns, you're not going to bring them into our committee room," said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who sits on the committee, at a recent hearing to pass the new rules. "You don't need them there for your own safety. Many of us feel that it threatens our safety and that's just not going to be allowed."

Democrats have felt so threatened by Republicans that they installed metal detectors for lawmakers to enter the House chamber — which Boebert called "a political stunt" — and instituted fines of up to $10,000 for those who don't comply. Several Democrats have also also alleged — without evidence — that some Republican lawmakers may have aided Capitol rioters.

"I wish we didn't have to fear that they were bringing a weapon on the floor," Casten said. "I wish we didn't have to fear that they may have incited some of what happened. I wish we didn't have to fear that they may have shown people where the tunnels were. But it's not clear to me they can be trusted."

Davis says the metal detectors and those kinds of allegations have likewise eroded trust among Republicans towards Democrats. "It's very frustrating when you have colleagues without any evidence just throw out wild conspiracy accusations, and frankly there's got to be some accountability on their behalf to provide that evidence or apologize."

All of this could be examined by an outside commission, but party leaders have so far been deadlocked over the makeup of the commission. Republicans want an even 5-5 partisan split like the 9/11 Commission, while Democrats suggested a partisan 7-4 advantage. They also can't agree on the scope of the investigation. Democrats are skeptical of Republicans willingness to examine Trump's role in the events of Jan. 6, while Republicans think Democrats want to control an investigation that could expose security failures on their watch.

For now, top Democrats remain optimistic they will be able to reach a deal. "I think they'll get there, I really do. I think this is too important not to," said Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., a member of House Democratic leadership.

Congress may need to hand over this investigation to an outside entity because there's no indication House lawmakers can do it together. Aguilar said most Democrats see the only path to reconciliation is for those 139 Republicans who objected to Electoral College results to say it was a mistake. "The more they continue to perpetuate the 'Big Lie,' and continue to push back against it, it's really hard to move past that," Aguilar said, in reference to conspiracies promoted by Trump that the election was fraudulent. "They need to acknowledge that Joe Biden was elected in the safest election and the fairest election ever held."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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