Opinion | America Needs a Jan. 6 Commission

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But negotiations have foundered over two key points of dispute: who sits on the commission and what those people investigate. Ms. Pelosi’s bill provides for 11 commissioners, with seven named by Mr. Biden or Democrats in Congress, and four named by Republicans. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, rejected this, calling it “partisan by design.” In response, Ms. Pelosi is threatening to abandon the process and leave any investigations to the House’s standing committees, or a select committee.

Opinion Debate
What should the Biden administration prioritize?

  • Edward L. Glaeser, an economist, writes that the president should use his infrastructure plan as an opportunity to “break the country out of its zoning straitjacket”
  • The Editorial Board argues the administration should return to the Iran nuclear deal, and that “at this point, the hard-line approach defies common sense.”
  • Jonathan Alter writes that Biden needs to do now what F.D.R. achieved during the depression: “restore faith that the long-distrusted federal government can deliver rapid, tangible achievements.”
  • Gail Collins, Opinion columnist, has a few questions about gun violence: “One is, what about the gun control bills? The other is, what’s with the filibuster? Is that all the Republicans know how to do?”

That would be a big mistake. As Americans have witnessed time and again, politically sensitive investigations conducted by sitting lawmakers are prone to being hijacked by grandstanders who care less about getting the truth than about getting more votes in their next election (see: Benghazi). Even if that weren’t an issue, there’s the problem of limited attention. Lawmakers are constantly dealing with a long list of pressing issues. Adding a major investigation to that docket would only slow it down, and make it vulnerable to back-room deal-making.

The solution is to divide the commissioners equally between Democrats and Republicans, but not include any current lawmakers or public officials. Nor should there be any role in choosing commissioners for the 147 lawmakers, including the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who endorsed the lie about the election by voting to reject the Electoral College results hours after the insurrection had been put down.

The good news is, that’s not necessary. There are plenty of Republicans in public life who put their country above their party, like the former national security officials and lawmakers who this month signed a bipartisan letter calling for a wide-ranging independent commission.

This isn’t to say Congress has no role to play. Two Senate committees are already conducting bipartisan hearings on some of the security and intelligence failings surrounding the Capitol riot. Last week, a new report by the Capitol Police inspector general found that officers were told not to use more aggressive tactics to fend off the mob, even though there were warnings that violence was likely. The dozens of prosecutions of those who breached the Capitol or committed violence will also bring to light crucial information.

These are all important details to get into the record, but by themselves they are far from sufficient. As the national security officials’ letter made clear, any thorough investigation into the events of Jan. 6 must dig much deeper, to address the complex interplay of threats that led into and out of that day: coordinated disinformation campaigns on Facebook and other social media; the money being funneled to extremist networks; the ongoing specter of white supremacist violence, which the Department of Homeland Security has identified as a top threat.

A commission addressing all of these issues could include a wider range of perspectives, too — not just former elected officials but political scientists who study the rise and fall of democracies, as well as experts in cybersecurity, disinformation and counterterrorism.

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