Capitol Security Finally Gets Questioned

While leaders in the House continue to finalize the parameters of the commission to examine Capitol security failures on Jan. 6, the US Senate begins joint committee hearings to question key players.

DC Metro Police intervene at the attack on the US Capitol, and provide reinforcement for Capitol Police Officers during the riot from Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. Officials in charge of building security that day will be questioned by the Senate, starting Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Photo by Mostafa Bassim/via Getty Images)

Leaders in the US House of Representatives are currently hammering out the final details on the new commission, inspired by the one created after 9/11, that will formally investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. While the bartering process continues there, a bipartisan group of US Senators will proceed with several joint hearings today, in two separate committees. The committees intend to examine and scrutinize the series of security breakdowns that occurred during the riot, that ultimately failed to prevent Trump insurrectionists from breaching the building.

The examination of security officials that were in charge during the attack will be led by both the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee, and the combined effort to take testimony today will be the first time the public will be hearing from these top officials. Both Paul D. Irving, the former House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael C. Stenger, the former Senate sergeant-at-arms, left their posts immediately following the riots, after being asked to resign.

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Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who also resigned in the wake of the attacks, will testify before Congress today in addition to DC Metropolitan Police Chief Robert J. Contee. The officials who have resigned have come under heavy scrutiny amid reports that they did not act to call for the National Guard swiftly enough, as the mob overran the building with the vice president and members of the House and Senate inside.

While the struggle to agree on specific rules for the new commission continues to face a back and forth that has turned political, the hearings today will continue forward, despite the lack of agreement in the House. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who chairs the administration panel explained the necessity of moving quickly on gathering testimony saying, “it’s important to get the information out under oath as soon as possible.”

Klobuchar also said she supports the process of forming a 9/11-type commission in the House, and the Senate will proceed now to assist in gathering intel. “Decisions have to be made about the Capitol, sooner rather than later,” said the senator. These oversight hearings on the failures of Capitol security will be the first in a series, and have been organized by Sens. Klobuchar and Gary Peters, (D-MI), who is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Both Democrats are working in conjunction with their Republican counterparts on each committee, Senators Roy Blunt (R-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), to organize the series of inquiries.

A Trump supporter enters the US Capitol's Rotunda on January 6, 2021, and stands next to a statue (that he has dressed in Trump paraphernalia) of former President Gerald Ford for photo in Washington, DC. (Photo by Saul Loeb/ via Getty Images)

While the US Senate moves forward with collecting the testimony of key players involved in securing the building, the negotiations over the details of the proposed commission in the House of Representatives have hit a few partisan speed bumps. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has proposed a scenario where each of the top four congressional leaders would nominate two members for the commission, and President Biden would name three members. One of Biden’s three selections will chair the commission and will be chosen in a joint decision with Congressional Democrats — the chair would have universal subpoena power.

This would mean that Democrats would have a total of seven appointees, Republicans would get four that were chosen by GOP leaders, and the Democratically appointed chairperson would ultimately control who would be subpoenaed by the commission. Pelosi has also suggested that the committee work to complete a “set of findings” on the Jan. 6 attack that would then guide the inquiry process with two specific caveats: the empaneled commission would conclude it’s tenure at the end of this year, and Donald Trump would not be named in the findings. This last clause was likely included to make the entire offer more palatable for Republicans.

A mob of Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol building and entered the US Senate chamber on Jan 6. 2021, in Washington DC. (Photo by Tom Williams/via Getty Images)

The proposal has been met with several objections by Republicans, who argue that if the intent was to form a commission modeled after the 9/11 version, then it needs to be evenly divided between appointees from both sides, rather than favoring one side in terms of empaneled commissioners. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has already issued a statement expressing early GOP requirements. “A commission should follow the guidance of Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton to be ‘both independent and bipartisan,’ said McCarthy, “and to preserve that integrity it must be evenly split between both parties.”

Republican leaders in the House are expected to submit a counter-offer soon that will no doubt attempt to push a closer split in appointees from both parties and it is likely that they will not accept subpoena power resting solely within Democratic control. Meanwhile, the Senate begins to take testimony today at 10:00 am/ ET and you can watch it live on your local CSpan network, CSpan online or through CBS affiliate WUSA online here. Stay tuned.

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Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines and analyst for BBC radio. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.

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