December 7. November 22. September 11.
Now we can add January 6 to that list.
After all those other national tragedies, there were independent, bipartisan commissions convened to investigate what happened so that it would not happen again: The Roberts Commission. The Warren Commission. The 9/11 Commission.
But this time patriotism and precedent don’t seem to apply. Because it looks like Republicans will kill — unless they go against the wishes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is asking them for a personal favor — a bipartisan January 6 commission for cynical political reasons.
Many of them are afraid that a bipartisan commission would bring up new information that could make the party look bad in the next election. They’re being intimidated by Trumpist thugs peddling the Big Lie. This is the moral equivalent of 9/11 truthers being allowed to derail a 9/11 commission — which is unthinkable.
But what can Democrats do in response?
Glad you asked. Here are three hardball ideas.
First, if Republicans want to filibuster a bipartisan commission to death, make them really filibuster it, out loud, on the floor of the Senate.
This idea, first floated by writer Jonathan Alter, has common sense merits.
With a majority vote, Democrats could force Republicans to defend the indefensible.
The O.G. talking filibuster is a pain. It’s public — and drags on for hours or days. But it’s consistent with the idea that filibusters are supposed to be stands of conscience — not secret rubber stamps for partisan obstruction.
The logic is simple: Republicans want to stop talking about the attack on our Capitol, so make them talk about it for a long time — attempting to diminish the importance of the attacks, as the Capitol police and the country look on.
This prospect just might make Republicans reconsider their opposition to a bipartisan commission and offer some amendments. Or they might just double down on their endorsement of insurrection amnesia.
In which case, here comes Plan B: a House select committee — with a twist.
Democrats could unilaterally convene a committee, asking Republican John Katko of New York, who negotiated the deal, to serve as co-chair.
Remember, 35 courageous Republicans voted to support a bipartisan commission, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is already planning to attack the House committee as partisan, using that as an excuse to dismiss its findings. So McCarthy is likely to appoint Big Lie backers who will do his bidding, but that also runs the risk of making Republicans look bad in the ensuing circus.
This committee would have subpoena power to get testimony from witnesses ranging from McCarthy himself to former President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and even former Vice President Mike Pence. They would no doubt resist those subpoenas in court, but the longer that delay tactic drags on, the closer it could bring them to the next election — something they desperately want to avoid.
The third option is uncharted territory, but then so was the insurrectionist attack on our Capitol. This idea was laid out by Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar, in an interview with Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, and I later called him for further clarification.
Here’s how it could work:
The attorney general could appoint a special counsel to investigate the insurrection and sedition, given that President Joe Biden was a party in the election.
The special counsel could deputize Justice Department lawyers from the public integrity division with subpoena powers to look at the digital records surrounding the attack.
He would then convene a bipartisan citizens commission — led by respected officials like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, Jeh Johnson and Fran Townsend — to hold public hearings, resulting in an authoritative official report and recommendations. This would in effect reverse engineer the bipartisan commission that Republicans rejected.
These alternatives would require Democrats to push back strongly, but they are necessary if the GOP kills the commission. Attempts to diminish democracy’s norms demand tough action. And maybe these alternatives will make enough Republicans reconsider their reflexive opposition to an eminently reasonable bipartisan commission.
What’s clear is that if we cannot unite and reason together after an attack on our democracy, then it will only embolden future insurrection attempts — and that is unacceptable. We must defend our democracy by any lawful means necessary.