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House Democrats unveil sweeping response to Jan. 6 attacks
House Democrats on Friday unveiled long-awaited details on Congress’ response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, including billions to address security flaws exposed by the siege and a bipartisan Sept. 11-style commission to investigate the root of the attack.
© Samuel Corum/Getty Images Pro-Trump supporters storm the Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) released a $1.9 billion emergency funding bill that would provide tens of millions of dollars to the Capitol Police department, foot the bill for deploying National Guard soldiers at the complex and authorize funding for “future” security needs such as a retractable fence system, among other provisions.
“The needs are urgent, so it is imperative we swiftly pass this legislation to protect the Capitol and those who work and visit here,” DeLauro said in a statement.
The bill would set aside $200 million for a quick-reaction force to assist the Capitol Police, which will receive body cameras for the first time. The bill also includes millions of dollars for mental health assistance and overtime for a Capitol Police force long understaffed and still reeling from the deaths of several officers in the aftermath of the insurrection. One officer, Howard Liebengood, died by suicide in the days after the attack, and the bill would rename the Capitol Police’s wellness center for him.
Lawmakers are also moving ahead with a bipartisan commission to investigate the events leading up to the attack. That plan has the backing of the GOP’s top negotiator on the issue, though not House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is still arguing that the panel’s scope should expand beyond the Jan. 6 attack.
The two major developments cap an intense week in the House that ripped open unhealed wounds from the Capitol siege. Certain Republicans have downplayed the insurrection in public comments as lawmakers engage in bitter confrontations. Some Democrats are eyeing the commission and debate over the security bill as a test of whether House members have any chance of moving forward together after the attack, or if the partisan split will only worsen.
“It is imperative that we seek the truth of what happened on January 6 with an independent, bipartisan 9/11-type Commission to examine and report upon the facts, causes and security relating to the terrorist mob attack,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
The bill to establish the Jan. 6 commission could come to the floor “as soon as next week,” Pelosi announced Friday, noting that the panel is modeled after a bipartisan study of events leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That floor vote will likely be followed by the emergency funding bill, as Democrats hope to pass both before leaving for the Memorial Day recess.
Democrats are powering ahead with their response to the Capitol attack after months of gridlock and partisan sniping that had stalled progress on the security funding and commission.
And while McCarthy said Friday he hadn’t formally signed off on the commission agreement, the deal between House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and ranking member John Katko (R-N.Y.) does include some key concessions to Republicans.
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In changes sought by Republicans, the proposed 10-person commission includes an even split between members chosen by Republicans and Democrats. It also ensures members of the commission can only issue subpoenas in a bipartisan manner. The commission is only able to issue subpoenas through a majority vote, or by agreement between its chair and vice chair. Democrats choose the chair. Its report will be due by the end of the year.
McCarthy and other Republicans had wanted the commission to investigate left-wing violence, but its focus will be limited to the Jan. 6 attack and factors leading up to it.
The GOP leader told reporters Friday morning that he hadn’t seen details of the agreement, and therefore hasn’t formally signed off, reiterating that he doesn’t want the commission to only focus on the Jan. 6 siege.
“I know Nancy Pelosi played politics with this for a number of months. You’ve got to look at the build-up before, and what’s been going on after,” McCarthy said.
Katko, who led negotiations for the Republicans, was one of several GOP lawmakers who immediately pushed for this type of commission to learn how the mob was able to storm the Capitol. The New York Republican was also one of 10 House GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the attack.
In a statement, he appeared to address his fellow Republicans’ concerns that the commission address issues beyond Jan. 6.
“Unfortunately the Capitol remains a target for extremists of all ideologies, as we also witnessed during the April 2 attack that took a Capitol Police officer’s life,” Katko said. “That’s why we must do everything we can to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again.”
Democrats can still proceed without McCarthy’s explicit backing, as several other House Republicans — including those who voted for impeachment — are expected to back it on the floor.
“Inaction — or just moving on — is simply not an option. The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol,” Thompson said in a statement.
Democrats will also likely be able to pass the security funding bill even if they don’t secure support from any Republicans. But it could be tricky: Before the bill was released, some Democrats raised concerns with components of the sprawling bill.
That includes a small number of Democrats, such as Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who have questioned whether Capitol Police should have more oversight requirements before receiving such a massive cash infusion.
Pelosi first announced plans for a commission in February, but Democrats and Republicans have spent months negotiating on the terms. The two parties had clashed repeatedly on what that commission should look like, from the makeup of its membership to subpoena power to whether it should expand the scope beyond Jan. 6.
Two decades ago, the exhaustive findings of the Sept. 11 commission became the basis for government-wide reforms in response to Al Qaeda’s 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But the appetite for such reforms after the Capitol attack in Congress is more complicated, with many GOP lawmakers lining up behind Trump and some now downplaying the violence at the Capitol that day. One lawmaker, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), this week compared the mob’s behavior to “a tourist visit.”
Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.