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As Congress debates Jan. 6 commission, some Republicans look to downplay Capitol riot

·Senior Writer
·5 min read
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While lawmakers debate whether to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, a number of congressional Republicans are insisting that the events of that day were no big deal.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has been downplaying a mob’s attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results for months, and on Wednesday night he went on Fox News to continue asserting that there was not an insurrection.

“Calling it an insurrection ... it wasn’t,” Johnson said in an interview with Laura Ingraham. “I condemn the breach, I condemn the violence, but to say there were thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol, attempting to overthrow the government, is simply a false narrative.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) questions Zalmay Khalilzad,  special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 27, 2021, on the Biden administration's Afghanistan policy and plans to withdraw troops after two decades of war. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 27. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/AFP via Getty Images)

“By and large, it was peaceful protests except for there were a number of people, basically agitators, that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol, and that’s really the truth of what’s happening here,” Johnson added.

So far, over 400 people have been arrested for crimes tied to the Jan. 6 riot, which resulted in several deaths. Former President Donald Trump was impeached for his role in calling his supporters to Washington, D.C., and inciting the violent invasion of the Capitol. Trump continues to baselessly maintain that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and GOP leaders have taken steps to punish officials who vocally disagree with that view, including ousting Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from their House leadership team last week.

The House passed a measure on Wednesday that would create a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack, despite opposition from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that he opposes the commission, which would likely need at least 10 GOP votes in the Senate to overcome a legislative filibuster.

The proposed commission would “investigate and report upon the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex and relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power,” according to the measure. On Wednesday, 35 House Republicans bucked McCarthy and voted for the creation of the commission.

Among those voting against the commission was Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who said last week that it was a “boldfaced lie” to describe the events as an insurrection, adding, “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” After Clyde’s comments, photos circulated of him helping to barricade the door inside the House chamber as the rioters attempted to break into the room where some legislators were trapped.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said last week that the Justice Department was “harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they push barricades to storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they push barricades to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

“Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters,” Gosar said during a hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “The FBI is fishing through homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal records and restricting the liberties of individuals who have never been accused of a crime.”

Johnson and Gosar have both floated the idea that the violence was sparked by left-wing protesters, a theory that has yet to be substantiated with any evidence. Earlier this month Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., questioned whether the rioters were Trump supporters, despite the fact that many were wearing Trump gear, waving Trump flags and cheering the then president when he spoke earlier that day.

Some Republicans have denounced their colleagues for attempting to “whitewash” the events of Jan. 6.

“Many who rightly criticized and condemned the attack that day have walked back their words or softened their speech,” Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., said on the House floor prior to the vote on the commission. “But even more troubling, there has been an active effort to whitewash and rewrite the shameful events of that day to avoid accountability and turn away from difficult truths.”

Along with claiming the Jan. 6 attack doesn’t qualify as an insurrection and therefore doesn’t merit investigation, Republicans are aware that having consistent headlines on how the former president and leader of their party fomented a revolt would hurt their chances at retaking control of Congress.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the Republican leadership team, acknowledged that reality in an interview with CNN, saying he opposed the commission because it would take focus away from the 2022 midterms.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) arrives for a Senate Republican Policy luncheon at the Russell Senate Office Building on May 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Senate Minority Whip John Thune at the Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward,” Thune said. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections I think is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us and the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda.”

If the legislation creating the commission were to fail in the Senate, Democrats could conduct the investigation on their own.

“I certainly could call for hearings in the House with a majority of the members being Democrats with full subpoena power, with the agenda being determined by the Democrats,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, adding, “It’s a question of ‘If they don’t want to do this, we will.’” 

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