Democrats have the opportunity of a lifetime when they open hearings of the House select committee on the Capitol insurrection Tuesday morning, but they can miss that opportunity by making three mistakes: If they fail to prominently show videos of the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, if they fail to announce that hearings of the committee will resume immediately following the August recess and continue until the committee has completed its work, and if they turn Rep. Liz Cheney into a rock star.
Let's put the Cheney matter away first. Sure, she was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump the second time around for his role in provoking the assault on the Capitol, and her statements about Trump's culpability are helpful. But every time she starts running her mouth about the Constitution, I take a moment to consider her abject opposition to constitutional rights like abortion and marriage equality. This is a woman who picks and chooses the battles she wants to fight, and her late-blooming anti-Trumpism may have less to do with preserving our democracy and the Constitution than it does with her ambition. Democrats aren't fooling anyone with Cheney and the recent appointment of Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. They aren't the loyal opposition. Among Republicans, their opposition to Trump is as convenient as it is rare, but that doesn't deserve excessive thank-yous from Democrats.
This committee is about as nonpartisan as Trey Gowdy's Benghazi committee. You remember that wonderfully principled inquiry, don't you? Formed in May of 2014, the Benghazi committee managed to string out hearings over two years and did not shut down until December of 2016, after spending more than $4 million on its spurious "investigation" of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the Obama administration's response.
The Benghazi committee wasn't intended to be nonpartisan. No less a figure than Kevin McCarthy went on Sean Hannity's show, halfway through the committee's lifespan, and said, "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable."
Along with coining brand-new words like "untrustable," McCarthy and the Benghazi committee accomplished every one of the Republicans' goals. They dragged out the process right through the entire 2016 presidential election cycle, through the primaries, through both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, right through the November election itself. They held hearings. They leaked. They exaggerated. They lied. They put Hillary Clinton at the witness table for eight hours on Oct. 22, 2015, almost exactly a week after the first Democratic primary debate in Nevada, and three weeks before the second and much more important debate in Iowa. They did everything they possibly could to drag her through the political mud. They didn't try to hide it. They just did it.
If Democrats don't do the same thing with their Jan. 6 select committee, they will be missing the chance to tar and feather not only Donald Trump but the entire Republican Party. Everybody knows what happened on Jan. 6. Everybody knows who assaulted the Capitol. It was a violent mob of Trump supporters. They didn't try to conceal who they were. They waved Trump flags. They wore MAGA hats. They chanted Trump slogans. They filmed themselves with their cell phones and immediately posted the clips on social media. They tweeted. They Facebooked. They Instagrammed. They gave interviews to whoever from the mainstream media was present. And then they went home and bragged about it.
Everybody knows that some 550 of the Trump supporters present at the Capitol on Jan. 6 have been arrested and charged with federal crimes. Several have already pled guilty and at least one has been sentenced to jail. Everybody knows that 165 of them have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement officers.
And everyone knows that the man who incited the riot at the Capitol, Donald Trump, has been on a tour of rallies bent on lying his way out of culpability for the insurrection. Trump and his Republican acolytes have been characterizing the assault on the Capitol as just another day of "tourist visits" by a "loving crowd." Everybody knows they're attempting to pull off the old "who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" scam. Trump is the past master of that one. Nobody in American politics has told so many lies or repeated them as often as Donald Trump. He's good at wielding the Big Lie, but he is also the master blaster of the Blizzard of Lies. He knows he can't insult the intelligence of his base. Hell, they're out there believing every lie that gets thrown at them about how vaccines are responsible for more deaths than COVID and masks don't prevent the disease, they spread it. They'll believe his lies that pipe-wielding Proud Boys were just showing the Capitol police some love.
The problem faced by the House select committee is this: What do you do in the face of such blissful ignorance? Well, so far Democrats have been winning the insurrection-commission wars because they have Nancy Pelosi leading them. She has outmaneuvered McCarthy every time he's tried to throw up a Trump-licking roadblock. He thought he could beat her by getting together with Mitch McConnell to cancel the truly nonpartisan 9/11-style commission Pelosi proposed to investigate the attack on the Capitol. Pelosi fired back with the select committee. McCarthy thought he could turn her committee into a clown car by appointing the two Jims, Ohio Republican Jordan and Indiana Republican Banks, to the committee. Pelosi rejected both of them. Then McCarthy announced Republicans would boycott the committee entirely, apparently thinking Pelosi would wilt under charges that her committee was too partisan. Pelosi shot back by appointing Cheney and Kinzinger.
What the Lickspittle Caucus is now looking at is a committee entirely controlled by the toughest Democratic speaker of the House to come along since … who? Sam Rayburn? Tip O'Neill? Neither of those glad-handers could carry Nancy Pelosi's purse. If McCarthy and the Republicans had gone along with the nonpartisan commission originally worked out between the parties in the House, they would have had veto power over subpoenas and at least some role in which witnesses to call and how long the commission would last.
Gone. Republicans won't be able to stop Democrats on the committee from subpoenaing key witnesses to Trump's behavior during the insurrection, including Ivanka Trump and even McCarthy, who spoke with the instigator in chief on the phone that day. If Pelosi wants to call Trump himself to testify before the committee, she can do it. If Republicans contest the subpoenas, Pelosi can order House lawyers into court to fight, and if the court cases drag out, so will the term of the committee. Pelosi will be free to have the committee hold hearings through the fall and winter, right into the middle of the 2022 campaign season if she so chooses.
And why shouldn't she? Trump is going to stay out there on the rally circuit spreading his lies, but Democrats will have the select committee to counter them. If Pelosi wants to schedule a hearing for the day after every one of Trump's rallies, she can. If she wants to call witnesses to rebut specific lies he blathers, she can. Best of all, there are enough hours of videos from the assault on the Capitol that the select committee will be able to play a couple hours of video every time they hold a hearing and hardly make a dent in the supply. The video of the murder of George Floyd is what convicted Derek Chauvin. Videos of the Capitol insurrection present the same sort of damning evidence.
I lost track years ago of the number of times I've wished Democrats would learn to fight as hard as Republicans. Nancy Pelosi is, thankfully, as principled as she is tough, and she's exactly what we need right now. As for Kevin McCarthy, he can make all the pilgrimages he wants to Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago or wherever else Trump is holed up with his golf clubs and his Diet Cokes and his burgers. He can huff and puff all he wants, but he won't be able to blow Nancy's House down.