Why Pelosi Won't Tolerate Dissent on Her 'Insurrection' Committee | Opinion

Perhaps some naive souls believed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to convene a special committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot would afford the country some closure on the traumatic events of that day.

It appears that Pelosi has other motives. She and her party have latched onto the disgraceful events of January 6 not merely as a talking point to deploy against former president Donald Trump but as a club with which to beat all Republicans who express concern about election security. Six months after Trump's second impeachment, and following the Senate's failure to approve a 9-11 type commission, Pelosi's dogged insistence on re-litigating the riot was sure to invite debate about a host of issues—including some that don't fit neatly into the Democrats' preferred narrative about an "insurrection."

As the riot recedes further into the past, it is becoming clear that if Pelosi's committee was going to amount to anything more than fuel for a CNN or MSNBC retrospective, the House speaker was going to have to allow Trump supporters the right to take part in its proceedings and make any points they felt necessary.

That would have meant allowing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to name the Republicans who would be on the committee. But Pelosi did not grant him that right. Her response to McCarthy could not have been better calculated to inflame GOP opinion and widen the partisan divide about the riot. It is certain to convince conservatives—whether ardent Trump loyalists or those who are wary of his continued involvement in politics—that the committee's goal is nothing more than political messaging.

By rejecting two of McCarthy's choices—Representatives Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.)—and naming two dissident GOP members who have aligned themselves with the Democrats on the "insurrection"—Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)—Pelosi has removed any doubt about what will follow.

It is conventional practice for the majority to give deference to the minority to name its own members, as they will have no influence over the committee's ultimate decisions apart from the right to contradict the majority's claims and raise inconvenient questions. By trashing this convention, Pelosi left McCarthy and the GOP no choice but to refuse to take any part in the committee.

With two tame GOP mascots—aptly dubbed "Pelosi Republicans" by McCarthy—along for the ride, the Democratic majority has effectively convinced conservatives that its only goal is one more show trial of Trump and the political right.

Jordan and Banks would have done their best to derail the committee's focus on the former president. They would have resisted efforts to treat the riot as a seditious conspiracy rather than the disorganized yet violent aftermath of a "Stop the Steal" rally in which a few hundred rally attendees subsequently stormed the Capitol.

The disruption of Congress' joint session accepting the Electoral College results was a shameful challenge to the rule of law. That's true even if the alleged insurrection amounted to nothing more than trespassing and the sort of disorderly conduct and fisticuffs with police that were a staple of the hundreds of "mostly peaceful" riots that took place the previous summer. Trump's initial refusal to rein in his supporters or immediately condemn them once they ran amok was wrong, and indicated a lack of respect for democratic norms.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi press conference
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. Speaker Pelosi discussed various topics including the new House facial mask mandate for members and staff after new guidance issued by CDC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

But Pelosi and the Democrats were intent on transforming Jan. 6 into something more—something that would continue to be politically useful even after Trump exited the White House. Though talk of insurrection was hyperbolic, it allowed Democrats to construct a political universe in which opinions about the former administration matter more than those about the current one, or about the narrow Democratic congressional majorities.

Had Pelosi accepted the presence of Republicans like Jordan and Banks on her committee, it would have allowed GOP members a chance to raise questions about elements of Jan. 6 that don't fit the insurrection narrative.

Jordan and Banks may have inquired about what Pelosi knew of the refusal to reinforce Capitol security, about what caused some of the police to let protesters enter while others fought to keep them out and whether the possible presence of government informants among the crowd meant anything. The decision of a still-unnamed law enforcement official to fatally shoot one trespasser—a military veteran named Ashli Babbitt—despite her appearing to pose no clear threats in video of the incident, might have been investigated rather than swept under the rug in a manner that would have been unimaginable had Babbitt been a Black Lives Matter demonstrator killed by police.

Republican committee members could also have asked why those rioters who have since been arrested were subjected to harsh treatment and overcharging not inflicted on BLM rioters.

Allowing McCarthy's appointed Republicans onto the committee would have also offered Democrats the opportunity to debunk conspiracy theories and to place unimportant details in proper context. It would have legitimized the committee and lent at least some weight to its conclusions, even if GOP members dissented from them.

But if Pelosi's goal was to depict all Republicans as part of a conspiracy against democracy, treating the presence of anyone other than opponents of the former president on the committee as unacceptable serves the speaker's political purpose. What Pelosi wants is a television show that will remind liberal viewers and voters of the awfulness of their opponents.

This Congress has, by comparison, no interest in probing the origins of the far more extensive and deadly riots that followed the death of George Floyd last year. At least one poll shows that more people want such an investigation more than another rehashing of Jan. 6.

Nor has Pelosi expressed interest in a commission to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic—an issue both parties ought to consider a priority. Democrats don't seem to want to find out whether what happened in Wuhan, China, was the result of a lab leak, and they oppose any discussion about COVID-19 other than one blaming it all on Trump's handling of the pandemic.

A Jan. 6 kangaroo court may help reinforce the Democrats' efforts to paint their opponents as fascists, rather than merely people with whom they disagree. Yet for democracy to succeed, both sides must respect each other and be willing to abide by elections—something that Pelosi's party, which spent years promoting the Trump-Russian collusion hoax, seems no more capable of doing than Trump. By opting to demonize opponents over making even the appearance of bipartisanship, Pelosi is doing as much damage to democracy as the rioters her party seeks to tie to the GOP.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to the Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.