Watching the puddle of cowardice grow under Kevin McCarthy and congressional Republicans as they flee the very Capitol sack commission they demanded on January 7, one might think: Surely this is the worst, the bottom? Surely these are the telltale scorch marks in the far clearing of the woods, the remnants of some sinister art at work in the dead of night?
Nope, I realize time and again. It’s just Republicans doing their eternal thing right out here for all to see.
This is Republicanism in my lifetime: Watergate and the long departure of Nixon; Gerald Ford and the abrupt pardoning of Nixon; the manipulation of the 1979-1980 Iran Hostage Crisis to assist the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, the smash-and-grab ethos of trickle-down economics and the rise of the radical Evangelical Christian right; the full embrace of militant fundamentalists in Afghanistan; Iran-Contra and all the subsequent pardons by George H.W. Bush upon the advice of Attorney General William Barr; the beginning of a war in Iraq that continues 30 years later; deregulation and environmental degradation at a massive scale as moneymaking policy; Newt Gingrich and the politics of the slashed Achilles heel; the stolen 2000 presidential election; a hole in the sky above Manhattan, a hole in the Pentagon, and a hole in the ground in Pennsylvania; the collapse of the national economy; the invasion of Afghanistan, the re-invasion of Iraq based on a raft of brazen lies; The PATRIOT Act; blanket NSA surveillance and Total Information Awareness; torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay; millions displaced by war in the Middle East, destabilizing the entire region and inviting a caldera of blood and violence; the collapse of the national economy, again; eight years of racist obstructionism during the presidency of a Black man; and, finally, everything Trump, which is its own catalog of fathomless woe.
This is, by necessity, an abridged list. Weaved throughout has been a ceaseless effort to relegate women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, young people, poor people, disabled people and basically anyone who doesn’t “belong” in the livid fiction of their Norman Rockwell fever dream to the outskirts of influence and self-determination.
For all that, the shamelessness on display in Washington, D.C. is novel even by its own putrefying standards. McCarthy, along with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, will spend this week destroying any chance for the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly 1/6 attack on the Capitol. They will do this despite the fact that 35 fellow Republicans in the House voted for the creation of the commission.
They do this because Trump wants them to, despite his internationally broadcast culpability for the riot. They do this because any fair telling of the events would expose the rioters as stalwart Republican voters, and if the commission digs deep enough, it may even reveal some lawmakers’ peripheral — and even direct — connections to the attack that put an entire branch of government to its heels in flight for one long winter day.
More than anything, however, they do this with an eye toward November 2022. “Four months after the deadly assault that targeted them and their institution, the two minority leaders in Congress had united against a bipartisan inquiry that would provide a full accounting for the riot,” reports The Washington Post. “Like Mr. McConnell, Mr. McCarthy is determined to put Republicans in the House majority next year and himself in the speakership, and he regards an investigation into what happened on Jan. 6 as an obstacle in his path.”
After the House vote last Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio gave full vent to his spleen regarding the behavior of the Republican minority. “We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship,” Ryan shouted from the House floor. “What else has to happen in this country?”
A pressing question, that. On Monday morning, the Post reported that the Trump administration transformed a small security unit within the Commerce Department into a sprawling counterintelligence operation aimed at Commerce employees. “The Investigations and Threat Management Service (ITMS) covertly searched employees’ offices at night, ran broad keyword searches of their emails trying to surface signs of foreign influence and scoured Americans’ social media for critical comments about the census,” they report.
Consider the course we chart: Republicans attack science because it does not fear their version of God, or their anointed leader. They are attacking the proper teaching of history because it interferes with their advertising. They attack representative government when it doesn’t work, but only after trashing it when it does. (So as to make sure it doesn’t, lather rinse repeat every two to four years.) They use the government to attack itself, further denuding its effectiveness. They are attacking free elections because they can no longer win a fair national contest. They are attacking nonpartisan journalism for speaking basic fact.
Against science, history, elections, government, journalism and democracy. What’s next? Why, you, of course. Are you on The Team? Have you been bathed in the blood of the Lamb? Don’t you realize the attack on the Capitol was done to make Trump look bad so they could steal the election with bamboo fibers in Arizona and God knows what everywhere else? There was no insurrection! Trump won the election! Now drink this punch and wait for the word!
Two potential land mines lie along the GOP’s present path. If they choose to use the filibuster to kill the January 6 Commission bill in the Senate, that racist old parliamentary weapon will once again be center stage, with even louder calls for its dissolution. Joe Manchin and his cohort of fabulists could stand in the way again, but if the commission is crushed, Manchin will be hard-pressed to maintain his defensive posture regarding the filibuster.
The other bomb has to do with Democratic alternatives to the commission. Kevin and Mitch may well have outsmarted themselves on this one. “If McConnell is successful in blocking the bill in the Senate, however, this isn’t the end of the story,” reads a recent report from Substack. “Democrats have at least three options they can still deploy, none of which is very palatable to the GOP. Speaker Pelosi has already warned that if the bill does not pass the Senate, she could set up a Select Committee, comprised primarily of Democrats, to conduct the investigation. ‘If they don’t want to do this,’ Pelosi said, ‘we will find the truth.’”
The Senate will vote this week on the commission bill. Ten GOP senators will be needed to thwart the filibuster, but only seven have voiced their support to date. Odds are good the bill will die, and then we will be in a place where a political party directly responsible for attacking the federal government has the power to deny a commissioned examination of those events, and can even go on live television and state that what everyone else saw on television that day was “normal tourist behavior.”
When it goes down, try not to be too terribly surprised. It’s just another chapter in the book, “Republicans Being Republicans.”