The latest flap out of Washington follows a familiar pattern. This time, the issue centers around the dispute over which Republicans should sit on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th Insurrection on the US Capitol. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked to name five members from his party to serve on the Select Committee and then Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of those choices. This immediately issued a cry of foul from McCarthy. He subsequently withdrew all Republican names and quickly pronounced the Select Committee to be a “sham process” that would not uncover new information but would simply relitigate the past to the Democrats’ advantage during the 2022 midterm election season. He accused Pelosi of an “egregious abuse of power” and said she “has broken this institution.”
As concerned and informed citizens, it is incumbent upon each of us to be wary of the inevitable political spin that has arisen and will continue to emerge around this incident. Two things demand our particular attention.
The first is context. So, let’s widen the lens: As Liz Chaney (R. Wyo.) has pointed out, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of McCarthy’s choices, may be called as a material witness. It is on the record that he participated in at least one meeting with Donald Trump during which strategy to overturn the election results on January 6 was discussed. The Select Committee seeks to investigate not only events on January 6 itself, but what led up to that day. This creates an obvious conflict of interest for Jordan. Jim Banks (R-Ind), the second name that Pelosi rejected has maligned the Select Committee in comments to the media. His words are self-disqualifying: “This was never a serious effort on their part, it’s all a political witch hunt. They want to make this all about Donald Trump, dragging Republican members of Congress through the mud and attacking 75 million people that voted for Donald Trump.”
Widening the lens further, comments made to the media by both Jordan and Banks since January 6 demonstrate clearly their intent to play down the insurrection and offer a gloss to the day that minimizes the level of violence at the Capitol. (I highly recommend the New York Times video, “Day of Rage,” aggregated from multiple sources into a comprehensive chronology of what actually happened on that day.)
Wider still, Pelosi’s action was necessitated when House Republicans refused to participate in a fully bipartisan 9/11 style commission that would have called outside experts to testify and would have included equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. By rejecting this strategy, Republicans left Pelosi with the only tool she had—to create a Select Committee containing a proportional number of Democrats and Republicans. When McCarthy named the Republicans for the Select Committee, he included obstructionists Jordan and Banks, thereby guaranteeing that the Committee’s efforts would be forever stymied.
The second thing that demands our attention is the framing that will undoubtedly emerge from Republican sources and the right-wing media echo chamber as the work of the Select Committee gets underway. The narrow focus of Republican arguments will undoubtedly be on Pelosi—a frequent target—and how she has sabotaged the workings of Congress. She will be accused of making this a purely partisan effort, thereby rending any findings (like the result of the 2020 Presidential election itself, which continues to be denied by a majority of Republicans today) suspect at best, and a nefarious attempt to undermine our democracy at worst.
If past is prologue, such framing will occur, further eroding the confidence Americans place in our elected officials and clouding any attempt to find the truth behind events leading up to January 6. How else do we hold accountable those who planned and executed this assault on the Capitol? As we consume news reports about the work of the Select Committee in the coming weeks, we must be vigilant to both the context and the framing in these reports if we are to understand the real perils to our democracy that occurred on January 6.