Top Democrats are making a renewed effort to press ahead with establishing a sweeping, central investigation into the 6 January attack on the Capitol in what could be the final opportunity to hold former US president Donald Trump to account for inciting insurrection.
The move reflects the resolve of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to pursue a comprehensive inquiry even without bipartisan support, after Senate Republicans, fearful of what a full accounting of the violence might uncover, last week voted down legislation for a 9/11-style commission to scrutinize the attack by a pro-Trump mob.
Pelosi said on a Democratic caucus call on Tuesday that she was prepared to create a House select committee with subpoena power to replace the commission as the principal investigation by Congress into the assault, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The select committee was one of several options raised on the call that included empowering one existing committee, such as the House homeland security committee, to take charge of the congressional investigation, the sources said.
Also suggested on the call was the possibility of returning the bill to create a 9/11-style commission back to the Senate for a second vote, while Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic caucus chair, floated the idea of the Department of Justice appointing a special counsel.
Pelosi did not endorse any particular proposal, but she did categorically rule out a presidential commission created by Joe Biden, in large part because such a panel would lack subpoena authority or funding without a statutory change.
Jim Clyburn, the House majority whip, was supportive of empowering the House homeland security committee to take charge, the sources said, while the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, and the assistant speaker, Katherine Clark, were non-committal.
It was not immediately clear how Pelosi might proceed. But rank-and-file House Democrats have agitated for weeks for Pelosi to seize the reins and adopt her longstanding fallback plan of empanelling a select committee.
Select committees – among the top weapons for congressional oversight – have long been convened on issues relating to corruption and cover-up, from the investigation into presidential campaign activity during Watergate to the Benghazi terrorist attacks.
The creation of a select committee could break the logjam that has persisted for months on Capitol Hill over disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over how to embark on a full accounting of the attack that left five dead and scores injured.
Proponents of the select committee received a boost last week from Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, who seemingly extended his endorsement to the proposal saying it was “better to investigate with a select committee than not investigate”.
Pelosi has previously suggested that a select committee would focus on lines of inquiry likely to have been explored by the commission.
That kind of mandate would mean a forensic examination into the root causes of the attack, the former president’s conduct as his supporters stormed the Capitol and threatened to hang his own vice-president, as well as any potential ties between Trump and the rioters.
But its work could still be stymied by Republicans, who have repeatedly resisted any comprehensive inquiry into the attack, afraid of being found complicit ahead of the 2022 midterm elections in inciting insurrection by amplifying Trump’s lies about voter fraud.
The number of Republicans downplaying or even outright denying the reality of what transpired on 6 January, for instance, has only increased in recent months; Congressman Andrew Clyde described the deadly insurrection as a “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol.
Likely opposition – especially from Republican leaders in Congress – could also make any new findings be viewed through a partisan lens and cause a substantial proportion of the country to reject any conclusions that cast Trump in a negative light.
The last select committee convened by Congress to investigate Benghazi devolved into a partisan affair, even before the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, admitted it had been created to damage the 2016 election chances of the former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
But House Democrats have remained largely undeterred. “If Republicans won’t join us to protect our democracy, we have an obligation to do it ourselves,” said Teresa Leger Fernández, a member of the House administration committee.