Sen. Johnson questions Dems' focus on Jan. 6 Capitol riot amid debate over independent commission

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At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., accused his Democratic colleagues of devoting too much attention to dangers posed by domestic terrorism and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Though the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have both identified racially motivated domestic extremists, specifically white supremacists, as the greatest domestic terrorism threat currently facing the United States, Johnson said he is more concerned about other threats, such as those posed by transnational criminal organizations that smuggle drugs into the U.S. and vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure.

“I’m afraid we’re focusing on domestic terrorism that might kill a couple hundred people a year, versus something that could really represent an existential threat,” he said. “Thousands of drug-related murders every year, tens of thousands of drug-related overdoses, and now we’re supposed to concentrate on domestic terrorism as the greatest threat? It’s not.”

A mob of Trump supporters
A mob of Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Leah Millis/File photo via Reuters)

The focus of Tuesday’s hearing was to examine the role of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis to protect the U.S. against emerging threats, as part of the committee’s ongoing investigation into recent intelligence failures, including the attack on the Capitol — which Johnson also called into question.

“I condemned what happened here on [Jan. 6], but I condemn as well the more than 500 riots that occurred during the summer including in Kenosha, [Wis.] ... two dozen people murdered, several hundred law enforcement officers injured, $2 billion worth of property damaged, yet we all just want to move beyond that and let’s just focus on Jan. 6th.”

Johnson’s comments echo an attitude recently embraced by other Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has come out in opposition to a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent commission to investigate the violent attack on the Capitol and the botched law enforcement response.

Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

The proposed commission, outlined in a bipartisan bill introduced last week by House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and the committee’s ranking member, John Katko, R-N.Y., would be fashioned after the panel convened by Congress to study the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It would be expected to deliver its findings, including recommendations for preventing future attacks, by Dec. 31.

In a statement released by his office Tuesday, McCarthy said that “the renewed focus by Democrats to now stand up an additional commission ignores the political violence that has struck American cities, a Republican congressional baseball practice, and, most recently, the deadly attack on Capitol Police on April [2,] 2021. The presence of this political violence in American society cannot be tolerated and it cannot be overlooked.”

The bill put forth by Thompson and Katko limits the scope of the commission’s investigation to focus on the factors that led a mob of pro-Trump supporters to breach the Capitol as Congress met to certify President Biden’s win in the Electoral College. The proposal does, however, include specific provisions requested by McCarthy on behalf of House Republicans, including a requirement that the 10-person panel be composed of five members appointed by the leaders of each party, and that subpoenas issued by the commission must receive a majority vote or an agreement between the chair and vice chair.

Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (Joshua Roberts/File photo via Reuters)

In response to McCarthy’s rejection of the commission proposal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that “Democrats made repeated efforts to seek a bipartisan compromise. But Leader McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer.”

Pelosi has said House Democrats will move forward with a vote this week on the commission proposal, as well as a separate $1.9 billion emergency funding bill for security costs related to the Capitol riot — both of which received a White House endorsement on Tuesday. Though the Democratic-led House of Representatives will likely pass the bill to create a Jan. 6 commission when it votes on Wednesday, the proposal’s fate in the Senate — where it will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass — is less certain.

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Politico reported on Monday that several Republican senators had already expressed concerns about the commission’s composition and scope. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “They’re going to have to broaden the inquiry in order to get 60 votes.” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, told Politico he worried that a commission could interfere with Congress’s existing investigation into law enforcement failures on Jan. 6.

“I’ll look at what they do, but I’m no fan of the commission,” Blunt said.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled more openness toward supporting the commission, but told CNN’s Manu Raju on Tuesday afternoon that “we’re undecided about the way forward at this point.”

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