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Why Republican Leaders Ignored the January 6th Hearing
The House select committee’s task is to establish who knew what about the insurrection—but most Republicans don’t seem to want to find out.
August 1, 2021
At the first House select-committee hearing on the January 6th insurrection, last week, four law-enforcement officers presented excruciating details of their efforts to protect the Capitol and the lawmakers inside it from the mob that sought to disrupt the certification of the Presidential election. Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant, recalled how rioters set upon him, doused him with chemical irritants, and flashed lasers into his eyes. Michael Fanone, of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, said that he was Tased and beaten unconscious, and suffered a heart attack. Harry Dunn told of being taunted with a racist epithet that “no one had ever, ever called” him while he was “wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.” Daniel Hodges, the youthful Metropolitan Police officer who was recorded on video being crushed in a doorway, used a single word twenty-four times to describe the people who rampaged through Congress. He called them “terrorists.”
Illustration by João Fazenda
Shortly after the insurrection, R. P. Eddy, a former director of the National Security Council, suggested on NPR that the reason the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. had missed every glaring sign of what some members of the group that Donald Trump
liked to call his “army” were planning for the sixth had to do with “the invisible obvious.” It was difficult for officials, Eddy explained, “to realize that people who look just like them could want to commit this kind of unconstitutional violence.” Representative Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, one of two Republicans who joined the committee, against the wishes of the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, noted something similar in his opening statement. “We never imagined,” he said, “that this could happen: an attack by our own people fostered and encouraged by those granted power through the very system they sought to overturn.”
When Officer Hodges used the word “terrorist,” he was demanding that the obvious be made visible. This is also the essential task of the committee: to assemble a comprehensive record of January 6th showing that those who entered the Capitol were not, as Trump said, “a loving crowd” but political extremists, incited by the President and abetted by Republican members of Congress and other government officials, whose deference to a seditious demagogue represents an ongoing threat to the country.
The insurrectionists, however, called themselves “patriots,” seeming to believe that bearing the American flag earned them that title. To most people, the flag symbolizes the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. But at the Capitol it was brandished as a weapon—along with the Trump flag, the Confederate battle flag, and the thin-blue-line flag—in an attempt to undermine what the committee’s chair, Representative Bennie Thompson, called “the pillar of our democracy”: the peaceful transfer of power. The insurrectionists, in calling themselves patriots, had absorbed a fundamental lesson of the Trump Presidency—how to pervert language so that the things you say are the opposite of what they actually mean.
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That lesson was on display on the morning of the hearing, when Representative Elise Stefanik, who was once a vocal critic of the former President but has since become his willing enabler, stepped up to a bank of microphones outside the Capitol, alongside McCarthy. “The American people deserve to know the truth—that Nancy Pelosi
bears responsibility, as Speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on January 6th,” Stefanik said, alleging that Pelosi had “prioritized her partisan political optics” over the safety of the police. The Speaker of the House is not, in fact, in charge of security. But at least, one could argue, the woman who is now the third-ranking Republican member of the House recognizes that the events of January 6th were tragic.
Stefanik ascended to the leadership position because Representative Liz Cheney was ousted from it by her fellow-Republicans, this spring, for challenging Trump’s lies that the election had been stolen. “No member of Congress should now attempt to defend the indefensible, obstruct this investigation, or whitewash what happened that day,” Cheney, who joined Kinzinger as the only other Republican on the committee, said at the hearing. Or, as Sergeant Gonell put it, “What do you think people considering becoming law-enforcement officers think when they see elected leaders downplaying this?” Nevertheless, both McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, said that they had been too busy to watch the officers’ testimony.
Meanwhile, members of the now defunct America First caucus—a small cadre of House Republicans led by Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose attempt to promote “Anglo-Saxon political tradition” proved too retrograde even for other Trump loyalists in Congress—gathered outside the Department of Justice. Before hecklers could chase them away, they championed the more than five hundred people who have been charged so far in connection with the assault. Paul Gosar called those still in jail awaiting trial “political prisoners,” following the lead of Louie Gohmert, who, in May, on the House floor, said that they were “political prisoners held hostage by their own government.” This theme has become a talking point on the far right. Trump, too, has embraced it. Recently, on Fox News, he questioned why such “tremendous people” had been incarcerated.
The House select committee will reconvene sometime in August. Before that, according to Thompson, it is likely to begin issuing subpoenas to people, including some in the government, who may have known about events leading up to and surrounding the insurrection. Now that the Justice Department has allowed former officials to provide “unrestricted testimony,” Trump’s Attorney General William Barr and his acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen are likely to be called. So are members of Trump’s inner circle, including Representative Jim Jordan, who spoke with him that day. (Jordan was one of two Republicans nominated to the committee by McCarthy and rejected by Pelosi, for having challenged the legitimacy of the election and for calling the committee “impeachment round three,” after which McCarthy pulled all five of his nominees.) It’s unclear if officials will honor subpoenas or ignore them, as happened during Trump’s two impeachments, potentially forcing a protracted legal battle.
If they choose to obstruct the committee, the obvious—an invitation to incite and carry out future acts of insurrection—will be visible for all to see. The pillar of American democracy may yet be the final casualty of January 6th. ♦
Published in the print edition of the August 9, 2021
, issue, with the headline “Responsible Parties.”
House of Representatives
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