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Opinion: Now that GOP has killed 1/6 commission, Democrats must play hardball

December 7. November 22. September 11.

Now we should add January 6 to that list.

But this time patriotism and precedent don’t seem to apply. Because Republicans killed the creation of a bipartisan commission by filibuster. The final vote was 54-35 in favor — with six Republicans joining with Democrats in the US Senate — but fell short of the 60 vote mark needed to proceed. The minority was able to kill the will of the majority for the most cynical political reasons.

Most were afraid that a bipartisan commission would bring up new information that would make the party look bad in the next election. They were 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 actually do in response?

Glad you asked.

To begin with, Democrats should have demanded that the filibuster be conducted out loud, on the floor of the Senate. This idea, first floated by writer Jonathan Alter, would have forced 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.

Republicans want to stop talking about the attack on our Capitol, so they should have been made to talk about it for a long time — attempting to diminish the importance of the attacks, as the Capitol police, and the country, look on.

The fact that it would have delayed their Memorial Day break would have been entirely appropriate. Instead, they were allowed to double down on their endorsement of insurrection amnesia. It’s just one more reason why the time has come for filibuster reform.

So now it’s time for 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 or she 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 hardball alternatives would require Democrats to push back strongly, but they are necessary now that the GOP has killed the commission. Attempts to diminish democracy’s norms demand tough action.

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.

This piece has been updated to reflected the latest developments on the Jan. 6 commission.



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