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House Lawmakers Reach Bipartisan Deal On Panel To Investigate Jan. 6 Attack

Supporters of then-President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Jose Luis Magana
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Updated May 14, 2021 at 12:44 PM ET

House lawmakers have reached a deal on a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump and to recommend changes to protect the complex further.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., the panel's ranking member, will introduce legislation Friday to set up the commission.

Thompson said the attack was of a complex and national significance that demanded the need for an independent commission to investigate, and was pleased a deal was reached after months of intensive talks.

"The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol. After all, the Capitol is not just a historic landmark, it is where our constituents come to see their democracy in action," Thompson said. "We owe it to the Capitol Police and all who enter our citadel of democracy to investigate the attack."

The 9/11-style panel would include 10 bipartisan members: Five of them, including the chair, would be appointed by the House speaker and the Senate majority leader; the other five, including the vice chair, would be appointed by the minority leaders of the House and Senate. The panel would, among other things, study the "facts and circumstances of the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy."

The commission would have the power to issue subpoenas to carry out its investigation, but these would require "agreement between the Chair and the Vice Chair or a vote by a majority of Commission members." Under the deal, the panel will be required to issue a final report along with recommendations by Dec. 31.

In a statement, Katko said he has remained firm in his calls since the day after the January attack for an independent, 9/11-style review. He said the bill to create the commission will lead to answers to protect the Capitol.

"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. That's why we must do everything we can to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again," Katko said in a statement. "An independent, bipartisan commission will remove politicization of the conversation and focus solely on the facts and circumstances surrounding the security breach at the Capitol as well as other instances of violence relevant to such a review."

The establishment of a commission to investigate the attack has been the subject of a partisan fight — first over the panel's composition and then over its scope: Some Republicans wanted to use the commission to look into antifa protests last summer. Democrats have wanted the panel to focus solely on the events of Jan. 6.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other key Republicans have yet to sign off on the plan. McCarthy confirmed on Friday to reporters he was not on board, noting the vehicle attack last month that left an officer dead. The attacker in that instance was a self-described supporter of the Nation of Islam.

"You want to make sure that with the scope you can look at all that, what came up before, what came up after," McCarthy said. "So that's very concerning to me."

Rep. Liz Cheney, who was ousted from her no. 3 House Republican leadership role this week, lauded the news. Amid efforts to remove her from her role, Cheney rebuked the position of McCarthy and others that the scope of the commission should go beyond the siege.

"All members, especially House and Senate leaders, should support this effort and there should be no delay in passing this bill to find the facts and the truth about what happened on January 6th and the events leading up to it," Cheney said in a statement.

"In the aftermath of national crises, such as Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, or September 11th, our nation has established commissions so the American people know the truth and we can prevent these events from happening again. The same thing is needed for January 6th and this commission is an important step forward to answering those fundamental questions."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked for months to reach a deal with Republicans, many of whom said the plan wasn't bipartisan enough and the scope too narrow. In recent weeks, Pelosi agreed to address the language to split the seats between the parties but said the scope must remain focused on the attack.

"Protecting the U.S. Capitol Complex and all who serve and work in it is of the highest priority, and therefore, the House will also soon move forward with an emergency security supplemental which will provide for the safety of Members and harden the Capitol against further attacks," Pelosi said Friday.

Later on Friday, Democrats introduced the $1.9 billion plan to boost Capitol security.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.