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The House Approves A New Select Committee To Investigate The Jan. 6 Riot

Supporters of Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. The House of Representatives voted 222-190 on Wednesday to create a select committee to investigate the insurrection.
Julio Cortez
Supporters of Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. The House of Representatives voted 222-190 on Wednesday to create a select committee to investigate the insurrection.

Updated June 30, 2021 at 3:54 PM ET

In a largely party-line vote, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved legislation on Wednesday to create a select committee to launch a new inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

With a larger share of Republicans voting against the plan, it marks the latest turn in a partisan fight to investigate the riot.

As invited members of Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Capitol Police looked on from the gallery, Democrats blasted GOP members who opposed the select committee ahead of the vote.

"We have a duty to the Constitution and to the American people to find the truth of Jan. 6 and to ensure that such an assault on our democracy can never happen again," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said shortly before acknowledging the officers who were on duty the day of the attack. "And rather than being frivolous with the facts, we are going to be prayerful and patriotic and honor the concerns of the American people by seeking and finding the truth to protect our country."

The committee was approved by a 222-190 vote.

Last month, Senate Republicans blocked a move to vote on an outside commission, leaving Democratic leaders with plans to move forward with a House select committee instead. But some Republicans who supported the independent commission voted against the select committee.

Those opposed included Rep. John Katko of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who helped broker the deal on a bipartisan commission with the committee's top Democrat, Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

Katko and other Republicans who previously supported the commission voted against the select committee, calling it partisan.

"Speaker Pelosi's proposal to create a partisan committee of politicians to investigate the events of January 6th will not be viewed as credible by at least half of Americans, nor will it honestly look at her own failures in securing the U.S. Capitol on that day," Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., said in a statement. "It's not good enough, it won't do the job and I am committed to exploring the truth. It's what Southwest Washington deserves. I will oppose this partisan select committee and will not serve on it if asked."

But a few GOP members still bucked the party to join Democrats to approve the plan. Among them were Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

In a statement ahead of her vote, Cheney said while a bipartisan commission was the best route to investigate the siege, Congress is still obligated to conduct a full investigation on the most serious attack on the Capitol since 1814.

"Since January 6th, the courage of my party's leaders has faded. But the threat to our Republic has not. On an almost daily basis, Donald Trump repeats the same statements that provoked violence before," Cheney said. "His attacks on our Constitution are accelerating. Our responsibility is to confront these threats, not appease and deflect."

Cheney also noted that the country and the families of law enforcement officers injured or who died in connection with the riot deserve answers. And she called for the committee to issue and enforce subpoenas promptly, hire skilled counsel and do its job thoroughly and expeditiously.

"I believe this select committee is our only remaining option," she said. "This investigation can only succeed if it is sober, professional, and non-partisan. The threat to our democracy is far too grave for grandstanding or political maneuvering."

How the panel would work

The panel will face challenges confronted by other previous select committees, including the one formed by Republicans to look into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Pelosi has not yet named the chair of the panel or the Democratic lawmakers she plans to tap to be on it.

The panel will have subpoena power and a total of 13 members, with eight selected by Pelosi and the remaining five by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. But Pelosi has not ruled out a veto of McCarthy's selections since the panel's resolution directs those appointments to be made with her consultation.

Pelosi has also signaled that she could use one of her eight picks to select a Republican. Quickly, Cheney, who was recently ousted from her House leadership role by McCarthy and others, became a potential contender. Cheney hasn't ruled out the possibility, saying the final decision is Pelosi's.

For now, House Republicans, like Democrats, aren't saying who could be on the committee, but they slammed the plan ahead of Wednesday's vote.

"There is no doubt that what transpired Jan. 6 was a dark day, but instead of a good faith effort to reach an objective conclusion, Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats have placed partisan divisive politics ahead of the interests of the American people," said Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn.

Several congressional committees have launched their own inquiries into the riot, which have run parallel to criminal investigations by the FBI that have led to more than 500 arrests connected to the breach of the Capitol.

How a bipartisan commission failed

Pelosi announced the plans to move forward with the committee last week. It came nearly a month after the Senate fell a few votes short to move forward with floor debate to take up bipartisan legislation to establish the independent commission to investigate the insurrection.

Six Republicans joined Democrats to move to debate, with a final Senate tally of 54-35, that fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. Earlier in May, the House approved the commission plan by a 252-175 vote, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats.

The legislation was modeled after the commission established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with a panel of commissioners divvied evenly between the parties and with bipartisan subpoena power.

Ahead of the votes, former President Donald Trump blasted the plan and asked GOP leaders to reject it. Both McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., followed suit, along with a majority of their party in both chambers.

Pelosi and other Democrats have blasted Republicans for blocking the move.

"They had an opportunity, and I don't think it should be lost on any of us that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans turned this opportunity away to have a bipartisan, even-split commission," said Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the chief deputy whip for House Democrats.

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Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.