Ah, Mitch McConnell, you might have lost your Senate majority leader title, but you’ll always be the Great Gaslighter.
Minority leader McConnell doesn’t like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposal for a bipartisan commission to investigate the causes of the deadly January 6 Capitol attack, à la the 9/11 Commission almost 20 years ago. Mitch is mad, apparently, that Pelosi would like to examine not just security breaches but also evidence of planning, coordination, and execution among right-wing militia wannabes and even some law enforcement officials.
Mitch says no way—unless Democrats allow the commission to also examine the unrest that followed the police shootings of George Floyd and other unarmed black men and women last summer.
“If Congress is going to attempt some broader analysis of toxic political violence across this country,” McConnell harrumphed to reporters, “then in that case, we cannot have artificial cherry-picking of which terrible behavior does and does not deserve scrutiny.” He went on: “We could do something narrow that looks at the Capitol, or we could potentially do something broader to analyze the full scope of the political violence problem in this country,” McConnell declared. “We cannot land at some artificial, politicized halfway point.”
But that’s exactly where Mitch wants Congress to land: at an “artificial, politicized halfway point” squarely in the land of false equivalence. That’s where shadowy “antifa” gremlins and militant Black Lives Matter protesters (Black and militant, apparently, though no one has shown who they are) are equated with the huge, very visible and overwhelmingly white violent mob that stormed the Capitol, killing at least five people and wounding dozens more. Mitch wants to take us back to a version of Trump’s abominable Charlottesville statement, that there were “very fine people, on both sides.” Only it’s “very bad people, on both sides.”
Of course, McConnell and his allies are welcome to find us a group on the left that has conspired to inflict large-scale terror comparable to the deadly January 6 Capitol riot. But they can’t, because there isn’t one. As federal investigators piece together evidence that ties the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters to planning for the violence that unfolded there, they’re also finding clues that seem to implicate some inside and around the Trump campaign, especially its demented wizard, Roger Stone.
Let’s revisit the heart of McConnell’s argument: “We cannot have artificial cherry-picking of which terrible behavior does and does not deserve scrutiny.” I agree: We shouldn’t have “artificial cherry-picking,” and we don’t have to. We can pick actual examples of “terrible behavior” that led to death and destruction on January 6, and look at where it came from—and where it’s going.
I’m not surprised by McConnell’s posturing, but I am disgusted. By many accounts at the time, McConnell was shaken by what he experienced on January 6, with his staffers telling reporters (mostly on background) that he knew he’d been in grave danger that day. He was said to be furious with Trump, and even let it be known that he might vote to convict him in the impeachment trial. (Spoiler alert: He did not.) I gave him credit for bringing the Senate back into session on the night of January 6, after the devastation, to certify that Joe Biden won the election. But looking back, giving him credit for that is pathetic—he had almost no choice.
McConnell began reminding us who he is pretty quickly after the attack. After the House impeached Trump, he voted that the Senate couldn’t convict him because he’d already left office (yet he was the one who made sure that happened, by blocking an effort to begin the trial while Trump was still president). He voted to acquit him for the same reason two weeks later. But then he made a fiery anti-Trump speech (fiery for him, anyway). On top of labeling Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the events of January 6, he said the ex-president “is still liable for everything he did while he’s in office. He didn’t get away with anything yet.”
Maybe not; but McConnell mostly has. Sure, Trump ripped him after that speech (apparently aides convinced him to cut “something about him having too many chins but not enough smarts,” one told Politico). But the minority leader still has strong loyalty in his caucus. Even though he continues to bottom out in public opinion polls—he’s at 17 percent approval in the new Politico/Morning Consult survey—that’s never mattered: He trails for a while in election years, and then wins every time, as he did against the well-funded Amy McGrath last November.
Other Republicans have problems with Pelosi’s commission proposal, including the GOP cochair of the 9/11 convening, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean. And Democratic cochair Lee Hamilton doesn’t sound too happy either, because Pelosi is proposing to have Democrats outnumber Republicans. But why is that unfair? Her party took the House, Senate, and the White House in the last three years.
The arguments in favor of having an even partisan split on the commission feel dated right now. Hamilton and Kean themselves are period pieces, lovely ruins that can be used to document another way of life—reasonable bipartisanship—that is now extinct on our planet. I might get behind a larger GOP commission roster if party leaders would promise their members would come only from those who voted to impeach Trump—or at least those who voted to certify Biden’s election.
But if they won’t—and I assume they won’t—why should the nation, let alone the relatives of the January 6 dead, have to listen to the likes of Representative Jim Jordan or Senator Ron Johnson spit lies about what happened that day: the garbage claims that “fake Trump protesters” and other left provocateurs were behind the violence, which Johnson spewed as recently as Wednesday at a Senate committee hearing to examine security breaches. We didn’t ask any Al Qaeda sympathizers to join the 9/11 Commission, did we?
Is that offensive? Provocative? Let’s talk again when/if we get a real investigation. Meanwhile, Democrats can’t let McConnell hold this commission hostage. Reading that Politico story today, I remember the rage I felt in December 2016, when we learned that President Obama and his entire intelligence community, plus congressional leaders like then–Senate majority leader Harry Reid and of course Pelosi, wanted to issue a joint public statement about the sizable evidence of Russian meddling, in the pre-election autumn of 2016. McConnell said absolutely not, and if they did it without him, he would blast it as partisan.
Rather than forcing Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer to negotiate their power away with McConnell and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, perhaps Biden could set up a January 6 commission via executive order. Or the House and Senate leaders can force their vision through Congress with a series of votes. At any rate, the notion that the commission will have credibility only if it’s bipartisan needs a lot of pushback. Bipartisanship, as a Beltway fetish and fantasy, will need pushback for quite a while.
Bipartisanship is great if it means both parties at the table agree on the underlying facts. Yet we have seen, since the terror of January 6, that the GOP has backed away from even the facts they saw personally, McConnell especially. And I don’t think a commission that includes GOP January 6 “truthers”—whether they falsely claim the violence was organized by antifa, or was exaggerated by the left, or righteously triggered by the vote-frauding Dems—adds anything to our civic life. We need the actual truth, and bowing to these sad GOP “leaders” won’t get us there.