The death knell for the congressional inquiry

Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is playing a bad political hand as well as he can: when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his choices for the special committee to investigate the Capitol riot, he announced he would attract everyone and launch his own parallel investigation into the events of January 6.

“We will conduct our own investigation,” McCarthy said. “Why was the Capitol so ill-prepared for that day when they found out December 14 they had a problem? And what did we do to make sure it didn’t happen again?” He added: “House Democrats must answer this question: why are you allowing a lame speaker to destroy this institution?

The strategy is clear: to make the Democrats and Liz Cheney committee look even more like political theater. Turn the whole debate into a single blame on Pelosi for the Capitol’s poor security against Democrats who blame former President Donald Trump’s election demands for inciting the riot in the first place.

Will this help get to the bottom of the Capitol Riot? Probably not. But congressional control, a legitimate constitutional duty, has long since become a partisan exercise. Under the Republicans, there were numerous hearings on former President Bill Clinton and later on Benghazi that did little to move public opinion. Democrats have conducted similar inquiries into Trump’s trade relations and his alleged relations with the Russians as part of the country’s efforts to overturn the 2016 presidential election.

Red meat for the partisans, certainly, but not very convincing for the hesitant. Gone are the days when the Watergate committee blew up a big scandal in an ultimately, but belatedly bipartisan way. Now even Trump-Russia Special Advisor Robert Mueller is not seen as an honest middleman, but rather a figure in the Democrats’ quest for the 45th president.

Cheney’s presence on the Democratic-led committee, along with the general tone of the Jan.6 media coverage, will give him a bit more legitimacy. But not a lot. There are legitimate questions about the organizers of the riot, the gravity of the effort to disrupt the Electoral College certification, the extent of the security readiness on Capitol Hill, and, yes, Trump’s guilt. There is a picture that individual lawsuits against rioters probably cannot paint. Unfortunately, neither does Congress.

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