Thirty-five Republicans defy Trump and back study of January 6 Capitol riot

Plan to create a bipartisan commission investigating insurrection goes to the Senate, where Democrats will face challenges

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to open a door of the U.S. Capitol as they riot in Washington. At least a dozen of the 400 people charged so far in the Jan. 6 insurrection have made dubious claims about their encounters with officers at the Capitol. The most frequent argument is that they can't be guilty of anything, because police stood by and welcomed them inside, even though the mob pushed past police barriers, sprayed chemical irritants and smashed windows as chaos enveloped the government complex.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Thirty-five House Republicans joined Democrats on Wednesday in voting to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, risking the wrath of former president Donald Trump and flouting party leaders who condemned the proposal as unfairly partisan and unneeded.

The Republican mavericks were led by John Katko of New York, who wrote the measure with Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson.

Mr Katko, the panel’s top Republican, was battling two tides that have overwhelmed Congress in recent years: the nearly overwhelming potency Mr Trump still has among Republicans and a jagged-edged partisanship that often confounds even mundane legislation.

"I encourage all members, Republicans and Democrats alike, to put down their swords for once, just for once, and support this bill," Mr Katko said.

A moderate and a former prosecutor, Mr Katko defended the proposed commission as a fair and needed step towards understanding the riot, how it happened and what security improvements the Capitol needs to prevent a future assault.

"This is about fact. It is not partisan politics," he said.

The 35 defectors represented a relatively modest but still significant proportion of House Republicans, of whom 175 opposed the legislation.

Their defiance underscored the party's rift as some members supported an investigation into the shocking and violent Capitol attack while leaders tried to avoid enraging the former president, whose support they believe they will need to win House control in the 2022 elections.

The Democratic-run House approved the measure 252-175 and sent it to the Senate, where Democrats face an uphill fight to garner at least 10 Republican “yes” votes they will need to prevail.

Three Republicans spoke in favour of the legislation: Mr Katko, Fred Upton and Peter Meijer. All were among the 10 who voted days after the attack to impeach Mr Trump for encouraging his supporters to attack the Capitol. Mr Trump was later acquitted by the Senate.

If not for resistance by the Capitol Police, “who knows how many of our heads would have been swinging on those gallows” that members of the mob erected outside the building, Mr Upton said.

Mr Meijer, a new representative, took what seemed to be veiled shots at Mr Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and some of his colleagues.

Quote
"I encourage all members, Republicans and Democrats alike, to put down their swords for once, just for once, and support this bill."

Without mentioning names, Mr Meijer said the attack occurred "with the encouragement of prominent elected officials". He said some who initially criticised the attack "have walked back their words or softened their speech".

“More troubling, there has been an active effort to whitewash and rewrite the shameful events of that day to avoid accountability," Mr Meijer said.

Days after the Capitol attack, Mr McCarthy said Mr Trump "bears responsibility" for the rioters' assault. But he opposed impeachment, eased his criticisms of Mr Trump and opposed creation of the commission. Other Republicans downplayed the attack, with one comparing the rioters to tourists.

The most prominent of Mr Trump's Republican critics in the House, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, did not speak. Her colleagues dumped her from a House Republican leadership position last week for repeatedly criticising Mr Trump for his role in the Capitol attack and his claims that he lost the election because of widespread voting fraud.

The measure would create a 10-member commission – with five members appointed by each party – to investigate the Capitol riot.

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