Michigan lawmakers split on Jan. 6 attack commission as House OKs it

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Washington —  The proposal to create an independent commission to probe the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol split Michigan lawmakers Wednesday, as the House adopted the resolution in the face of broad Republican opposition.

The move to stand up the bipartisan commission comes four months after the unprecedented attack prompted by former President Donald Trump's unproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Wednesday's vote was approved, 252-175, with all Democrats voting yes.

Two Michigan Republicans, Reps. Fred Upton and Peter Meijer, joined 35 other GOP House members in bucking their leadership to support the formation of the panel. 

Both spoke on the House floor during the debate Wednesday, with Meijer, the freshman lawmaker from Grand Rapids Township, stressing the panel would produce a report for the public to "clear away myths and fictions and get right on the facts." He condemned efforts to "whitewash" the events of Jan. 6.

“If we avoid confronting what happened here just a few short months ago, we can be sure that intimidation, coercion and violence will become a defining feature of our politics for generations to come," said Meijer, who like Upton was among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in instigating the riot.

The proposal is modeled after the bipartisan commission that studied the 9/11 attacks and calls for 10 members, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, charged with investigating the facts and circumstances of the Jan. 6 riot, as well as the "influencing factors" behind it. 

"It’s even more important now than in the immediate aftermath because there have been attempts by many to redefine the events of Jan. 6th," said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Flint Township Democrat who was in the House gallery that day.

"Even though many of us believe we have a much clearer understanding of what took place than just about anyone else could — because we were there — it’s still important to examine, to the extent it was planned, how and by whom, but also to establish a factual record by an independent bipartisan commission, so the history will be correct."

Supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The House is voting to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the incident.

Five people died amid the Jan. 6. chaos, including two from natural causes and one from amphetamine intoxication, when hundreds of Trump supporters breached the Capitol building in an effort to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s win. More than 400 have been charged in connection with the events that day, which shined a light on the growing threat of domestic terrorism.

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, a Midland Republican, said he would vote against the commission's formation, citing the ongoing inquiries in House and Senate committees, in addition to the criminal prosecutions by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Let's see the results of these investigations that are already ongoing. Let's see what gaps still exist and then have a conversation on what still needs to be done to help our country and the Capitol security," said Moolenaar, noting the 9/11 commission wasn't set up until late 2002. 

"Right now, we need to have these investigations conclude and not create a circus environment, which unfortunately becomes very politicized in Washington, D.C. My hope is that we get to the truth, that people who violate the law are prosecuted, and that we never have something like this happen again."

The commission's setup has been stalled for months amid partisan disputes over the panel's structure and charge. House Republican leaders urged their members to vote "no" Wednesday, with Trump calling the panel a "Democrat trap."

Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, came out in opposition to the commission as proposed, suggesting it would be unfair to their party, with McConnell describing it as "slanted."

McCarthy argued its focus is too narrow and should also probe political violence by groups such as Black Lives Matter that protested police violence in the wake of the death of George Floyd last May and the 2017 attack on a congressional baseball practice.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Holly Democrat and former national security official who pushed for the bipartisan commission, has said it makes no sense for the panel to look at groups or events that have no factual connection to Jan. 6. 

She compared Wednesday's resolution side by side with the legislation that codified the 9/11 commission and said it's "extremely clear" the drafters cut and pasted major sections from the latter — everything from who would qualify to serve, to who names the commissioners, to the mandate of the commission and its subpoena power.

"So when I hear the Republican leaders pushing back and saying they want it to be this expansive mandate, either it is purely about showing fealty to the base and making it just a political thing, or they had some sort of problem with the 9/11 commission," Slotkin said Wednesday.

"My thinking is they haven’t even read it. They are just saluting the former president, the political base, in an attempt to save their own skins. ... They don't have the national security of the United States at the heart of their argument." 

The 9/11 commission was populated by well-established and respected national security leaders and former representatives of both parties, she noted. The report was swiftly published as a paperback book that became a bestseller sold in stores across the nation, she said.

"It is the reason why the average American school kid who wasn't even alive during 9/11 understands the story of what happened that day," Slotkin said.

"It's the way to say, 'We're not just going to talk to ourselves in Washington.' We're going to educate the public on what happened so that it never happens again, and so that we have popular interest and support in making the changes we need to make in Washington to prevent this from ever happening again."

The bipartisan leaders of the 9/11 commission issued a joint statement Wednesday supporting the proposed panel, calling the Jan. 6 attack "one of the darkest days" in U.S. history and saying Americans deserve an "objective and accurate account of what happened."

The proposed Jan. 6 commission would have the power to issue subpoenas, either by agreement of the Democratic chair and GOP vice chair, or by majority vote. Its hearings would be public, with a final report due by year's end on the commission's findings and recommendations for corrective measures. Current members of Congress and government officials may not serve.

Rep. Tim Walberg, a Tipton Republican, said Tuesday he was still looking at the bill but was leaning toward supporting it after talks with New York GOP Rep. John Katko, who helped draft the legislation. But Walberg ultimately voted no.

He had hoped the commission would look beyond Jan. 6 and examine the April attack on Capitol Police in which an officer died, as well as the 2017 attack on the congressional ball team's practice. 

"All of that was in relationship to our Capitol Police and the security of our Capitol and members of Congress," said Walberg, who was among the GOP lawmakers who objected to the presidential election results on Jan. 6.   

Rioters try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.

Upton of St. Joseph told CNN he thinks the panel is going to be fair. "It's important to get to the truth and find out just how widespread this thing was and what can we do to make sure that it never can happen again," Upton said.

Upton expects that the commission could subpoena McCarthy, as well as other members of Congress who witnessed the events of Jan. 6, when rioters ransacked the building as lawmakers and staffers hid for hours and law enforcement battled to regain control.

Upton wasn't in the House chamber that day but watched from his office balcony across the street as the attack unfolded, hearing the flash-bangs, smelling the gas and seeing the gallows erected on the east front of the Capitol.

"If it had not been for the brave Capitol and Metropolitan Police men and women that day, who knows how many of our heads would have been swinging on those gallows?" Upton said during Wednesday's debate. 

Upton earlier dismissed as "absolutely bogus" remarks by GOP colleagues last week who downplayed the Jan. 6 attack. Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde suggested the day was akin to "a normal tourist visit." 

"It was chilling what happened. Absolutely chilling," Upton told CNN. "And that's why I think that it's important that we move forward with this bipartisan commission. Get the facts out."

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, echoed McCarthy's concerns about a narrow scope for the commission as well as its "partisan" makeup.

"While both Republicans and Democrats will be equally represented on the commission itself, the Democratic chairman gets to approve all hires of staff," McClain said.

"This almost guarantees the commission will be stacked with biased investigators who will have a predetermined conclusion."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, defended the five-five structure of the Jan. 6 commission as what her GOP colleagues had asked for.

"We need to get answers about what happened on Jan. 6. There were people that came to the United States Capitol, attacked the symbol of democracy and — worse than that — wanted to kill us. And it needs to be addressed," she said. "People can’t hide their heads in the sand and say it didn’t happen. It did."

While the resolution cleared the House on Wednesday, it's uncertain if it can muster the 10 Republican votes needed for it to advance in the Senate. The offices of Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township said they both support the proposal.

Peters, as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security panel, said he would continue leading his committee's bipartisan efforts to probe intelligence, security and preparation failures that led to the Capitol assault. A commission would complement congressional efforts to examine how the attack occurred and what reforms are needed, he said.

"Every aspect of the attack requires full investigation," Peters said. "There is no question the proposed bipartisan commission would help Congress, and every American, get the facts."

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Jordyn Grzelewski contributed.

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