It might seem impossible to imagine now, but not long ago Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell were angry with Donald Trump.
It was right after a pro-Trump mob invaded Capitol Hill on Jan.6.
“The president bears the responsibility,” said McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the Republican House leader at the time.
“The crowd was fed on lies,” said McConnell (R-Ky.), Republican Leader of the Senate. “They were provoked by the president.”
It was then; it’s now.
Last week McCarthy and McConnell joined forces again – but this time it was in an effort to shield Trump from the indignity of facing a bipartisan investigation into the events of January 6, including encouragement from the former president to the crowd.
What turned the naturally angry leaders of the January GOP into the gentle, evasive men they are today?
Donald Trump, of course. After a few months of relative silence, the former president once again became the dominant national figure in the GOP, mainly by tackling any dissident Republican eruption enough to challenge him. Last week, Trump denounced the idea of a Jan. 6 commission as “a Democratic trap.”
And polls show he has most GOP voters firmly on his side. A University of Massachusetts poll last month found that only 7% of Republican voters blame the former president for the Jan.6 riot. So who was at fault? A staggering 31% blame the Democratic Party and 22% blame the left-wing antifa movement – testament to the mind-blowing effects of political polarization.
Those poll numbers crushed whatever remains of the backbone of previously posted Republican leaders and made support for any investigation into whether Trump helped incite the riot.
Especially for the ambitious.
If Republicans win a majority in the House of Representatives in next year’s parliamentary election, as seems likely, McCarthy could be the Speaker of the House, which he wished. And if the GOP wins just one additional Senate seat, McConnell will regain the powerful position of Senate Majority Leader.
It’s amazing how the prospect of power can kill a politician’s fleeting impulse to claim high moral standards.
A serious investigation on January 6 is the right thing for the country to do. If we don’t understand how the insurgency happened, how can we prevent it from happening again? But it could easily turn into a long, nationally televised embarrassment for the GOP – and a personal embarrassment for McCarthy and McConnell.
A full-scale investigation is expected to call Trump as a witness. He is also expected to summon his vice president, Mike Pence, who unsuccessfully called for help as he hid from the crowds chanting, “Hang on Mike Pence!” McCarthy should be called, who has told other Republicans that when he asked Trump to step in, the president praised the rioters, saying, “I guess these people are more upset than you are about the election. ” And he would call at least three members of the Republican House who allegedly came into contact with the extremists as they marched on Capitol Hill.
None of this seems to be a plus for the Republican cause.
But don’t take that from me; one of McConnell’s lieutenants, Senator John Thune (RS.D.), frankly explained last week that an investigation would hamper the GOP’s campaign message for 2022.
“A lot of our members… want to move forward and not look back,” he said. “Anything that causes us to rehash the 2020 elections, I think, is a day wasted in order to be able to contrast us with the Democrats. ‘Very radical left agenda’.
In other words: go ahead, folks, nothing to see here. The invasion of the Capitol is an old story; let’s talk about how President Biden (to quote Kevin McCarthy) “governs like a socialist.”
Last week, the Democratic-led House voted to allow an independent commission, with 35 Republicans breaking ranks – and challenging McCarthy – to vote yes. But the bill still needs 60 votes in the equally divided Senate, and McConnell has firmly established himself in the way.
There will still be several inquiries into what happened on January 6, even if McConnell succeeds in blocking a commission. The House and Senate committees are already reviewing the episode, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has the power to launch a special committee with a Democratic president.
These panels can subpoena Trump, but he can be expected to fight every summons, as he did when he was president, and court challenges can delay testimony by months or even years. . If Republicans win majorities in Congress in 2022, Boards of Inquiry may simply expire.
In any case, politician-led panels with party labels rarely gain as much legitimacy and credibility as an independent commission. The best way to inform the public would be a bipartisan panel, as free as possible from all politics.
Maybe that’s why Trump, McCarthy, and McConnell are fighting so hard against one.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.