Opinion: Don’t let Republicans play the ‘whatabout’ game with a Jan. 6 probe

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) speaks in the U.S. Capitol in September 2019.
(Michael Reynolds / EPA-EFE/REX)

In February House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by crazed Trump bitter-enders. The idea was widely endorsed, including by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, but it has stalled because of partisan bickering.

Pelosi has acceded to one Republican request — that the two parties have an equal say in appointing members of the panel — but now some prominent Republicans are making an additional, absurd demand: that the commission also be tasked with investigating previous incidents outside of the halls of Congress, including violence conservatives attribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Fox News Sunday Chris Wallace asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) about a “special committee” to investigate the Jan. 6 riot.


McCarthy’s response: “Since Good Friday we just had Officer [Billy] Evans killed in the Capitol. For the last year we’ve had political violence across this country and in this city. I think we should look at all of that.”

The killing of Evans on April 2, when a driver rammed into him and another Capitol Police officer, is arguably connected to the Jan. 6 riots because both incidents implicate Capitol security measures. But the idea that a Jan. 6 commission would look at “political violence across the country and in this city” is bizarre.

Why not throw in Benghazi, Whitewater and the John F. Kennedy assassination while we’re at it?

This whataboutism isn’t surprising coming from McCarthy. After a brief moment in which he acknowledged that Trump bore responsibility for the riots, the Republican leader has been engaged in a cringe-making effort to cozy up to the former president, including by traveling to Mar-a-Lago to enlist Trump’s aid in the GOP’s drive to regain control of the House next year.

In Sunday’s interview with Wallace, McCarthy took revisionist history to a new level, saying: “I was the first person to contact [Trump] when the riots was going on. He didn’t see it. What he ended the call was saying — telling me, he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.” His assertion that Trump had been unaware of the riots strains credulity; a timeline assembled by the New York Times suggests Trump was well aware of the chaos by the time they spoke. And as for Trump putting out a video later, Wallace aptly replied: “Quite a lot later. And it was a pretty weak video.”

It’s obscene to suggest a symmetry between the Jan. 6 riots, which sought to overturn the results of a presidential election, and other acts of violence, however deplorable. Pelosi should continue to insist that a commission focus on the insurrection, and she should challenge Republicans to support that effort.


One Republican leader, House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, already has broken with McCarthy. Although she said she was concerned by ”the BLM, the antifa violence last summer,” Cheney said that “it’s very important that the Jan. 6 commission stays focused on what happened on Jan. 6, and what led to that day.”

Precisely. Every Republican in Congress must be pressed to say whether they agree with her or with McCarthy.