Senior House lawmakers are battling over the contours of a panel inspired by the 9/11 Commission to investigate the deadly Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, with Republicans demanding equal representation.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Republican counterparts have already traded one offer each but still remain at odds over several issues including membership on the proposed commission, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks. Pelosi, who’s vowed to quickly take up legislation creating the commission, proposed tilting the panel in favor of Democrats, with her party getting to pick seven of the members while Republican leaders choose four additional appointees.
But Republicans are insisting on an equal split — each party gets to appoint five members — in their counteroffer, sources told POLITICO. Republicans also are pressing Democrats to avoid specifically prescribing avenues of inquiry that might steer the panel in certain directions, as opposed to allowing panelists to determine their own course.
In fact, members of the former 9/11 Commission — several of whom have consulted with Pelosi — cited that even partisan split as the reason for their success as they advised Pelosi on this year’s insurrection commission. Their willingness to take bipartisan ownership of the direction of the investigation, without an edge for either party, helped ensure the commission’s credibility in the eyes of the public, they said. For a review of the Jan. 6 riot to be credible, the former commissioners said, it must similarly be seen as independent and unbiased, rather than a tool of either party.
“There is really strong support in the country for us to seek the truth, find the truth, but also understand how we have to protect the American people from what might be out there in terms of domestic terrorism and the rest,” Pelosi told reporters late last week.
Pelosi said the investigative panel would closely mirror the 9/11 Commission, but it’s clear from Democrats’ opening offer that they would have preferred a sharply different balance of power.
A senior Democratic aide cautioned that the two parties are still exchanging offers and nothing is final. In the Democratic discussion draft, each of the so-called “Big Four” congressional leaders would get to appoint two members to the commission. President Joe Biden would get to pick three additional members, including the chair, who would have subpoena power.
Under the Pelosi proposal, the commission would have to issue a report by the end of this year with the panel set to dissolve 60 days after the report is finished.
The 9/11 Commission was a 10-member body that included five Democrats and five Republicans. The chair, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, was appointed by then-President George W. Bush. The vice chair, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, was appointed by congressional Democratic leaders. Both told POLITICO last week that they viewed their mandate as excising any extreme partisanship from within the commission’s ranks, particularly on the staff that ultimately carried out the investigation.
They, as well as other former 9/11 commission members, said subpoena power was an essential cudgel that they only deployed once — but one that proved effective at leveraging testimony from other reluctant witnesses. The former 9/11 commissioners also said that the commission should face no artificial deadlines.
“It needs, first of all, to be created in a way it can succeed and not constructed to fail,” said Tim Roemer, one of the 9/11 panel’s Democratic appointees, who has also spoken with Pelosi and other House Democrats.
One challenge that a Jan. 6 commission would face is the conflict with ongoing criminal investigations stemming from the riot. Prosecutors have charged more than 200 participants in the Jan. 6 assault, and their cases are in the early stages, which could make access to key witnesses challenging, particularly if the commission is expected to deliver a report at the end of the year.
Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, indicated Monday he intends to make the Capitol insurrection probe a top priority in his early tenure, a signal that the probe is likely to intensify in the coming weeks.