By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – In the past year, the United States has been hit by two viruses: The COVID-19 pandemic, and a political insurrection that reintroduced violence into the broad American body politic.

Capitol Hill Republicans are calling for the Biden Administration to probe the origins of COVID-19 and speculation that it was man-made and escaped a Wuhan, China, laboratory. But they slammed the door shut on a Sept. 11-style bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection that resulted in the deaths of five people, the injuries of 140 Capitol and DC Metro cops, the subsequent suicides of two others, and the need for a $1.8 billion hardening of its security. More than 550 insurrectionists are being investigated by the FBI or have been charged with sedition-related crimes.

The backdrop to the Jan. 6 commission is that former president Donald Trump continues to push the notion that the 2020 election was “stolen.” He is agitating for more swing state vote “audits” like the controversial one underway in Arizona despite the fact that recounts in a number of cases and courts with Trump-appointed judges had found there was no evidence of widespread fraud.

For instance, in a May 24 statement, Trump said, “New Hampshire’s Election Audit has revealed that large-scale voting machines appear to count NON-EXISTING VOTES. State and local communities are seeking confirmation. It’s probably true, but we’ll soon know. Why aren’t Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans doing anything about what went on in the 2020 Election? How can the Democrats be allowed to get away with this? It will go down as the Crime of the Century! Other States like Arizona, Georgia (where a Judge just granted a motion to unseal and inspect ballots from the 2020 Election), Michigan, Pennsylvania, and more to follow.”

On Saturday night in an appearance in North Carolina during which the condition of his pants created a stir, Trump said, “The 2020 presidential election was by far the most corrupt election in the history of our country.” He called it the “crime of the century” and added that “ourcountry is being destroyed, perhaps by people who have no right to destroy it.” 

This has morphed into multiple media reports that a delusional Trump has been telling friends and associates that he expects to “reinstated” to the presidency by August, though no constitutional route exists.

The danger is that a plethora of polling shows the GOP base believes Trump. Quinnipiac put the number of Republicans who believe the election was stolen at 77%. “Was the election on the level? ‘No way’ say the vast majority of Republicans,” said Tim Malloy, polling analyst for Quinnipiac. “The dearth of Republicans in the House and Senate willing to acknowledge the Biden win is in step with their base.”

U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun were against creating a commission that would have been based on the Sept. 11 Commission that was co-headed by then-U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, thus killing the effort in the Senate.

Braun didn’t vote on the matter, but said in a statement, “Those who breached the Capitol and committed horrific acts of violence on January 6 must be prosecuted, and all steps must be taken to prevent future security breaches and protect the men and women who protect the Capitol. To those ends, America’s most respected investigation entity, the FBI,is leading a world-class probe resulting in over 450 arrests so far and bringing a great deal of information about those who broke the law that day to light, and my Appropriations Subcommittee is digging deep into what the Capitol Police need to do their jobs safely and the architect of the Capitol needs to prevent future attacks. I do not support the creation of a partisan commission that seeks to exploit this tragedy for political gain.”

On Sunday, he said on CBS4, “The vote of the ones that were there was not going to affect the outcome, and I had a statement that was clear, I was against it in general and other situations had required me to do otherwise and it wasn’t going to make a difference.”

Sen. Young & truth

On Jan. 6, Young supported the Electoral College certification, and later said that public officials have an obligation to tell the truth. “I think we need to name and shame members of the media who were out there perpetuating mistruths and deceiving individuals,” Young said on Fox59 on Feb. 1. “I think the same applies to politicians who are out there perpetuating things that are completely false and deceiving constituents. I’d be remiss if I didn’t listen to the evidence but I think the views of most Hoosiers, and a view I share, and even some Democrats (is that) we have a new president. President Trump is now a private citizen.”

But on March 21, Politico reported: “Trump’s revulsion to even minor instances of disloyalty only intensified. As an example, they noted that Trump is currently withholding an endorsement of Indiana Sen. Todd Young after Young called Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene ‘an embarrassment’ to the Republican party last month. Young’s comments came shortly after Greene claimed she received Trump’s ‘full support’ during a phone call with the former president.”

Senate report poses more questions

A Senate investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has uncovered broad government, military and law enforcement missteps before the violent attack, including a breakdown within multiple intelligence agencies and a lack of training and preparation for Capitol Police officers who were quickly overwhelmed by the rioters (AP). The Senate report released today is the first — and could be the last — bipartisan review of how hundreds of former President Donald Trump’s supporters were able to violently push past security lines and break into the Capitol that day, interrupting the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. It includes new details about the police officers on the front lines who suffered chemical burns, brain injuries and broken bones and who told senators that they were left with no direction when command systems broke down. It recommends immediate changes to give the Capitol Police chief more authority, to provide better planning and equipment for law enforcement and to streamline intelligence gathering among federal agencies.

As a bipartisan effort, the report does not delve into the root causes of the attack, including Trump’s role as he called for his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat that day. It does not call the attack an insurrection, even though it was. And it comes two weeks after Republicans blocked a bipartisan, independent commission that would investigate the insurrection more broadly.“This report is important in the fact that it allows us to make some immediate improvements to the security situation here in the Capitol,” said Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which conducted the probe along with the Senate Rules Committee. “But it does not answer some of the bigger questions that we need to face, quite frankly, as a country and as a democracy.”
Roemer, Hamilton weigh in

In an op-ed article in The Hill last month, former 9/11 Commission member Tim Roemer, Democrat of Indiana, and Republican Zach Wamp write: “The 9/11 Commission’s unity of purpose was the key to its effectiveness. The commissioners examined, without bias, the events before, during and after the attacks. Their job wasn’t to play the ‘blame game’ for either a Republican or Democratic administration, but to understand our vulnerabilities in order to prevent future acts of terrorism. The American people understood that the commission was operating on their behalf. The commission report has become the authoritative source on what happened on Sept. 11, and its many recommendations have been adopted into law, making this country profoundly safer.”

Remember, the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks occurred less than a year after one of the most divisive, hyper-partisan chapters in U.S. history. Republican George W. Bush lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral College following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bush V. Gore.

After that ruling, Vice President Al Gore conceded on Dec. 13, 2000, saying, “Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ‘Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.’ Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country. I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”

Roemer and Wamp continued, “An independent and bipartisan Jan. 6 commission – insulated from the everyday political pressures of Congress – is best situated to establish a shared truth about the events of the day, so that partisan actors cannot rewrite the facts over time. It would give us a better understanding of the forces that led to the insurrection and, most importantly, a better roadmap of how to address them going forward.”

In an op-ed, former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sec. Michael Chertoff write, “The Jan. 6 commission is directly modeled on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which also studied and created recommendations to prevent future attacks on our nation. The members of the 9/11 Commission knew that Americans’ confidence in our system required a full, independent and objective review of the events. Its report helped heal a deeply wounded nation and protect our national security and shaped sweeping, government-wide national security reforms.

“That’s why in advance of the House vote, one of us, Lee Hamilton, joined his colleague on the 9/11 Commission, former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean, in issuing a joint statement urging Democrats and Republicans to once again put the good of our nation first,” Hamilton and Chertoff write.

GOP fears of a Jan 6 commission

Why do Young and Braun consign a Jan. 6 commission to that of a partisan exercise? For fear that it will result in embarrassing revelations on President Trump’s conduct and rhetoric leading up to the November 2020 election that resulted in what many Republicans now believe was a “stolen election” that morphed into what is now commonly known as “the big lie”?

There has also been congressional and media speculation that some members of Congress aided and abetted the insurrectionists in the days and hours leading up to Jan. 6, when Trump ordered his followers to go to the Capitol, then watched on TV the mayhem that ensued, resulting in the deaths of five people that day, the injuries to at least 130 Capitol and D.C. police officers, the suicides of two others. Since then, the U.S. Capitol has been barricaded and wrapped in razor wire.

At 2:14 p.m., Secret Service agents escorted Vice President Pence off the Senate floor and into a secure location. At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

By that time, the mob was chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and had invaded the Senate floor and the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Americans watched in horror after scores of senators were seen running through Capitol hallways, seeking shelter from the mob.

During Trump’s second impeachment trial in February, Democrat House impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett said: “The mob was looking for Vice President Pence because of his patriotism, because the vice president refused to do what the president demanded and overturn the election results. They were talking about assassinating the vice president of the United States.” Another impeachment manager, Rep. Ted Lieu, told senators that Trump was “desperate to cling to power” and that “when he ran out of non-violent measures, he turned to the violent mob.”

Pence talks of Jan. 6

Last week, Pence told New Hampshire Republicans, “As I said that day, Jan. 6 was a dark day in history of the United States Capitol. But thanks to the swift action of the Capitol Police and federal law enforcement, violence was quelled. The Capitol was secured.”

What Pence didn’t mention was it took almost four hours to secure the Capitol. We don’t know why.

Jim VandeHei, a founding editor of Axios and Politico, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last Friday, “The Republican Party has spoken. They want to be like Trump. They work to please Trump. The people who do pay attention to him are anybody who wants to be elected. A lot of them will be just like Donald Trump. A lot of them will be elected, and then it will be institutionalized.

“Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan? That’s gone in terms of people who run and are elected,” VandeHei continued. “So what Pence is doing and what every other Republican is doing is not surprising. The Republican Party of old, it’s gone. It’s not returning. There is no evidence of that. The party does not fundamentally care about deficits. I don’t think the vast majority of the base of the Republican Party cares much about ideology. It’s much more of an identity statement, a cultural statement that I would say is more solidified post-election. No one saw that coming.

“Jan. 6 should have been this watershed moment,” VandeHei said. “The Trump norm has become institutionalized.”

According to Roemer and Wamp, “If the Senate fails to act in a bipartisan manner to create an independent 9/11-style commission, there are two other options, both falling below the ideal of legislative action. 1.) President Biden could assemble an executive branch commission and generally appoint his selections. 2). Speaker Pelosi has indicated she could create a select committee comprising members of Congress, thereby embedding this back into a highly charged political environment with the 2022 midterms approaching.

“Historically, on important matters of safety and national security, our tradition has been to set aside partisan fighting and meet at the water’s edge,” Roemer and Wamp continue. “We do so because violence is not an acceptable form of political expression in our representative democracy. Americans face a fundamental choice – not between left and right, but between right and wrong. In the face of attacks both foreign and domestic, America has endured for over two centuries because we have stood united in the moments that mattered most. This is one of those moments, and it’s time for us to rise to meet it.”