In essence, they want a commission that looks past the attack on the Capitol to pretend that antifa is as much of a threat as far-right violence. The reality is that even if you set aside that event, far-right domestic terrorism is the story and antifa is the footnote—but of course an actual invasion of the seat of government in an attempt to prevent Congress from carrying out the peaceful transition of power is the reason political violence needs a commission at this level. And Republicans really don’t want the full story of what happened on and leading up to Jan. 6 to get out, let alone with the backing of a bipartisan commission.
While Pelosi has compromised on other points, she has remained insistent that the commission must focus only on the Capitol insurrection. The question, then, is if there’s any chance for Thompson and Katko to reach an agreement given such a fundamental point of contention.
Jordan Tama, an associate professor at American University’s School of International Service who, in his research on bipartisanship, has studied a number of independent commissions and their outcomes, has emphasized the importance of focus and scope. An overly narrow scope running the risk of missing root causes, while an overly broad scope can mean the investigation loses focus. He argued that a commission’s role “should include examining how the attack was planned and carried out; the roles and motivations of extremist groups that were involved in it; the use of social media and other digital communications to facilitate it; how and to what extent political leaders inspired or contributed to it; whether foreign governments contributed to it; and what federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies knew, did, and failed to do.”
That, unfortunately, is what Republicans don’t want. Because they know enough to know that getting solid answers on those questions would look very, very bad, not just for Donald Trump but for many congressional Republicans. If they thought that antifa had been behind any significant part of the attack—or probably any insignificant part—they would be all about an immediate and intensive investigation.
An agreement on how to structure a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission is distant enough—it would have to get through the House and then past the filibuster in the Senate. If put in place, there would be more problems, starting with who Republicans would appoint to the commission. While its members would be drawn from outside of government, Republicans would have plenty of terrible, terrible choices, people who would take it as their ultimate goal to stand in the way of any investigation that might go anywhere uncomfortable for Donald Trump.
If the effort to establish a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission fails, it will be entirely on Republicans. At that point, Democrats will have to investigate through regular committees or through the creation of a congressional select committee, which Republicans, having blocked a bipartisan investigation, will claim are partisan efforts. Their goal is to wipe the slate clean because what the slate says reflects poorly on them. Our goal has to be to not let that happen.