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Wake Up To Politics - May 20, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: All your 1/6 Commission questions, answered
Wake Up To Politics - May 20, 2021

Good morning! It’s Thursday, May 20, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 537 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,265 days away.

There was no newsletter yesterday because I was feeling a few side effects from my second vaccine dose. But I’m feeling a lot better now, and I’m glad to have gotten my final shot. Thanks for your understanding! And now, today’s news:

All your 1/6 Commission questions, answered

The House voted 252-175 on Wednesday in favor of a bill creating a commission to investigate the deadly January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. In a notable break with their party’s leadership, who opposed the measure, 35 Republicans joined with their Democratic colleagues to support the legislation.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces long odds amid GOP opposition. Here are the answers to some questions you might be asking about the commission controversy:  

How would the commission be set up? The 19-page bill that passed the House on Wednesday would create a “National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex,” which would be empowered to “investigate and report upon the facts and causes” of the Capitol riot.

Modeled after the independent 9/11 Commission, the commission proposed in the House bill would have 10 members. The chair would be appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the vice chair would be appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and then the congressional leader would be able to appoint two more members each to round out the body.

The bill states that members of the commission “should be prominent United States citizens,” although it explicitly prohibits them from being current governmental officers or employees. Members of the commission would need to be named at least 10 days after the bill is signed, and then the body would have until the end of the year to submit a final report.

The commission would have the authority to issue subpoenas by a majority vote, or by the joint agreement of the Democratic-appointed chair and the Republican-appointed vice chair.

Why do its supporters say the commission is necessary? The January 6 riot was a violent attempt to overturn the results of a U.S. presidential election and the deadliest attack on Congress in centuries. Five people died amid the attack, including a Capitol Police officer; more than 100 police officers were also injured.

A number of congressional committees have opened investigations into the riot, but several questions remain unanswered. Most notably, an official account of then-President Donald Trump’s actions on January 6 has yet to be put together to explain his slow response to the attack. An independent commission could compel Trump and some of his top advisers to testify for the first time on what occurred that day and in the months leading up to the attack, when Trump promoted a litany of lies relating to the 2020 election that were embraced by the rioters on January 6.

Trump supporters outside the Capitol on January 6. (AP)

Why are most GOP lawmakers opposed to the commission? Some Republican lawmakers have said that the commission is simply unnecessary, either by pointing to the congressional investigations already examining the attack or by downplaying the events of January 6.

In his statement earlier this week, House Republican leader McCarthy said that the commission’s scope was too narrow, calling for it to be expanded to also probe “the political violence that has struck American cities,” the 2017 congressional baseball shooting targeting Republicans, and an April car attack at the Capitol.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader McConnell announced his opposition on Wednesday, saying that a new commission would be redundant and blasting it as a “slanted and unbalanced proposal” written in “partisan bad faith” by House Democrats. (The legislation was co-authored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and the panel’s ranking member John Katko, a New York Republican.)

Why was the breakdown of the House vote significant? Rank-and-file members of Congress rarely break with their leadership, so the 35 House Republicans who backed the January 6 commission constitute a sizable defection from McCarthy and his whip team.

That rebuke is yet another black eye for McCarthy, who has been struggling to keep his conference united amid fights over the GOP’s future and a recent vote to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from his leadership team. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) also noted that the 35 defections were surprising, “given the death grip Donald Trump has on his party”; indeed, those members voted for the measure despite the former president coming out against it.

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy suffered 35 defections on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

What happens next? The January 6 commission bill now heads to the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to survive a filibuster. That means 10 Republicans would have to break with McConnell and join all 50 Democrats in support of the measure. At this point, the votes don’t appear to be there for that to happen: the Washington Post counted only seven Republican senators who have expressed openness to a commission.

And even some of those seven have offered criticism of the proposal: moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), for example, said that there was not enough bipartisan “consultation” on crafting the measure, and called for revisions to be made before the bill can move forward.

Policy Roundup: Legal

The week’s top legal news, by Anna Salvatore.

In a unanimous decision on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers don’t have broad authority to enter homes without a warrant. It’s true, wrote the justices, that police have “community caretaking” duties such as investigating car accidents and doing welfare checks. But the justices rejected the idea that as “caretakers,” officers can enter people’s homes and seize their belongings even when they lack evidence of a crime. The home is sacrosanct when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the court ruled.

In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts clarified that police don’t need a warrant if they are checking on people “who are seriously injured or threatened with such injury.” This is a narrow exception.

In a decidedly more contentious opinion, the court also ruled that it will not retroactively apply its decision last year requiring unanimous convictions for serious crimes. That means that 1,500 Louisiana inmates — who received divided convictions before the Supreme Court’s decision — will not be automatically eligible for new trials. “Louisiana district attorneys still have the power to review those old cases if they choose, as is happening in New Orleans,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. “But none will be compelled to do so.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s majority opinion was joined by the five other conservative-leaning justices. Justice Elena Kagan dissented, arguing that the unanimous jury right is fundamental to the rule of law. The majority “discards precedent,” she wrote, “with barely a reason given, much less the ‘special justification’ our law demands.”

Last but not least, the justices sent a case about climate change back to the lower courts. Baltimore sued several fossil fuel companies in 2018, claiming that they should pay for their role in accelerating global warming. But in a decision the New York Times called a “big win” for oil companies, the Supreme Court avoided the major constitutional questions and said that a circuit court should reconsider the dispute.

The Wheelabrator incinerator in Baltimore, the city’s largest source of air pollution. (Baltimore Sun)

More legal headlines, via Anna:

  • The New York Attorney General’s Office is now investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal — not just civil — capacity, reports the Washington Post.
  • Justice Stephen Breyer has written a new book about the importance of an apolitical judiciary. Given that this book will come out in the fall, and its official description begins with, “A sitting justice reflects,” some commentators take this as a sign that he is not retiring in the spring.
  • Planned Parenthood is suing after the city of Lubbock, Texas banned abortions outright.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed a heartbeat abortion bill on Wednesday that will limit abortions as early as six weeks, which is before many women know they’re pregnant. The bill will be sure to face challenges in court, the Texas Tribune writes.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. Later, at 2 p.m., he will sign the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, a bipartisan bill to create a position at the Justice Department to expedite review of Covid-related hate crimes against Asian-Americans. The measure passed the Senate in a 94-1 vote last month and passed the House in a 364-62 vote on Tuesday.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will both deliver remarks at the signing ceremony.

  • First Lady Jill Biden will visit the vaccination clinic at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C, at 1:15 p.m. with Dr. Anthony Fauci. At 7 p.m., she will deliver remarks at the virtual commencement ceremony for TheDream.US, the nation’s largest scholarship program for immigrant and undocumented youth.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.1260, the Endless Frontier Act, a bipartisan measure which would invest $110 billion in technology research over five years in an effort to compete with China.

At 12 p.m., the Senate will vote on an amendment by Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) which would require parity between defense and non-defense spending in all future budget resolutions, reconciliation bills, and appropriations legislation. At 1:30 p.m., the chamber will vote on an amendment by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) which would prohibit cancellation of Trump-era border wall contracts. Both amendments require 60 “yea” votes to be added to the bill.

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
  • The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on infrastructure investments. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge will testify.

The House will convene at 9 a.m.. Following one-minute speeches, the chamber will hold one hour of debate on H.R. 3237, a $1.9 billion emergency spending bill to increase security at the Capitol and reimburse local and federal agencies for costs incurred during the January 6 riot. The House will vote on the measure at around 10:30 a.m.

  • The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on clean energy and modernizing the electric grid.
  • The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on reducing gun violence and mass shootings.

The Supreme Court will meet for its weekly conference.

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