Despite The GOP, We Must Demand Accountability for January 6 Riots

Originally published in the North Jersey (Bergen) Record.

Republicans’ reprehensible blockade of a Jan. 6 commission is an escalation of the GOP’s growing war on democracy. House Democrats should not waste a moment to form a select congressional committee and expose the truth about that day. Our inability to act will not just paper over the worst attack ever on our government but will invite greater crimes and push us further down the path of fascism.

I was in the Capitol on Jan. 6 to certify President Joe Biden’s victory. The terrorists that ransacked our chamber were there to stop us. They brandished weapons of war and Confederate flags. They sought to commit murder and decapitate the republic.

The mob failed to stop the transfer of power, but they left dead and maimed police officers, crushed glass, trampled legislative offices, and a terrified and humiliated nation.

The pictures do not do justice to what happened. Without hyperbole, Jan. 6 is one of the darkest days in American history.

My colleagues and I were determined not to forget what happened five months ago. House Democrats approached our Republican colleagues in good faith. We agreed to all their demands in forming a Jan. 6 commission with equal participation from both parties.

And yet, when we took a vote, 83% of House Republicans opposed the investigation. Immediately after House passage, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition. His members followed his lead.

The week of the vote in the Senate, Officer Brian Sicknick’s grieving mother trekked to Capitol Hill. She came to plead with the same legislators her son died protecting. At least 20 Senate Republicans refused to see her.

By blocking the commission, Republicans slapped her and every single American in the face.

Congressional Republicans’ refusal to probe a terrorist attack on their own membership and workplace — one according to generous terms they themselves dictated — is a disgrace.

Their refusal to act in the best interests of America yet again is devastating. But accepting their dereliction and simply “moving on” would be far worse. With Democrats in control of the House, we should move to immediately impanel a select committee that can hear testimony and subpoena witnesses to get to the full truth of Jan. 6.

There are other proposals being circulated, including punting the matter to the Biden White House. But the assault on the Capitol was an attack on Congress and there can be no substitute for our own probe into the event.

The scuttling of a bipartisan committee is the latest sign of the Republican Party’s devolution.

Indeed, just hours after terrorists moved to end American democracy with violence, 138 House Republicans — 68% of their caucus — tried to finish the rioters’ job and voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

At this moment, there are more than 380 Republican-sponsored bills in state legislatures across the country seeking to suppress voting, crackdown on free speech, and rig elections for Republican candidates.

The tide of autocracy that fed the Jan. 6 attack will continue to rise unless we meet it. Last week, legislators in Texas blocked the most vicious voting restrictions seen there since before 1860 and then they practically begged Washington to take note and act.

Voters entrusted the Democratic Party with leadership of the federal government to deliver results. We moved with urgency to pass the American Rescue Plan.

The virus is in retreat and the economy is growing again.

Protecting our democracy is the most essential work we can undertake in Congress. Our window for action to save democracy and beat back authoritarianism may close in less than two years, at which point the damage may be irreversible.

In the House, we enacted the landmark H.R. 1, “For the People Act,” to protect voting rights, shield elections from sabotage, and abolish gerrymandering.

My Democratic Senate colleagues are scheduled to take up this measure in the coming weeks. If the future of American democracy comes down to abolishing the filibuster to pass H.R. 1 or retain a parliamentary gimmick, that decision is not difficult. All 50 Democratic senators must eliminate the filibuster — and soon. And from there ratify whatever legislative remedies are necessary to safeguard democracy: H.R. 1, statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, Electoral College and judicial reform — all measures should be on the table.

Our nation recently marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. For generations, the massacre was barely known because it had been deliberately erased from history.

What I saw with my own eyes on Jan. 6 cannot be ignored or wished away. The wolf is at our door.

Failure to provide answers and accountability for Jan. 6 would not just fail us in the present but evade the verdict of history. The fight for democracy is on. Congress must rise to it meet that challenge or risk America’s democratic future.