As the inaugural hearing of the Jan. 6 probe commences on Tuesday, the leadership deficit of GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be on full display.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, formerly the House GOP’s third-ranking member whom McCarthy has sought to muzzle, now has an elevated platform on the Jan. 6 select committee, where she is essentially serving as the GOP’s ranking member. On Tuesday, Cheney will deliver one of two opening statements at the outset of the panel’s investigation, a deliberate move by Democrats to emphasize the bipartisan nature of the inquiry.
Cheney’s prime spot on the panel will also be accompanied by an absolute dearth of Donald Trump’s usual GOP bootlickers, leaving him effectively defenseless after years of people like Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio turning every legitimate inquiry into an inscrutable circus. Now coverage of the hearing itself will include an unimpeded bipartisan effort to uncover actual facts about the Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump getting sliced and diced in hearings without cover from any of his usual suspects is pretty close to a worst-case scenario for House Republicans.
“Republicans should know better by now,” a former Trump aide told the Washington Post‘s Jacqueline Alemany. “The worst thing that can happen is for Democrats and Never Trumpers [to] have multiple shots on goal on Trump that will be shown on every cable news network.”
Meanwhile, broader coverage of the inquiry itself will feature Trump’s GOP allies pillorying their Republican colleagues, Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who also accepted the invitation of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to sit on the committee. In the case of Tuesday’s hearing, that criticism will be directed toward a proceeding that features the wrenching testimony of four officers who sought to protect congressional lawmakers, Vice President Mike Pence, and others from the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol complex to overthrow the government. In other words, Republicans will once again put themselves directly at odds with the dedicated police officers who put their bodies on the line during the siege. So much for the party of law and order.
On Monday, we got a glimpse of what that GOP infighting will look like. Asked about his refusal to seat people on the committee after Pelosi rejected two of his picks, McCarthy dismissed Cheney and Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans” and lambasted the panel’s “credibility” before the first hearing was even called to order.
Cheney responded by calling McCarthy’s swipe “childish,” a word also echoed by Kinzinger, indicating that the two are clearly coordinating their talking points. Unfortunately for McCarthy, Cheney is actually a far more skilled messenger than he is, and she will now be deploying her skillset against him and the GOP caucus rather than Democrats.
“We’ve got serious business here,” Cheney told reporters of the investigation. “We have important work to do, and I think that’s pretty childish.” Indeed, fully 72% of Americans said there’s more to learn about the Jan. 6 attack in a CBS News/YouGov tracking poll released last week.
Kinzinger was also right on point.
“We’re doing big things right now,” he said when asked about McCarthy’s insult. “We’re getting to the answers of the worst attack on the Capitol since the war of 1812. They can call me whatever names they want.”
So the bipartisan select committee is launching an inquiry into the worst homegrown attack on the U.S. seat of government in history, and the GOP leader—who may also be called to testify in the probe—is hurling partisan epithets at his Republican colleagues who have dared to demonstrate a shred of integrity.
It’s the perfect set up for a drama that will play out into next year as voters weigh whether they want to put control of the lower chamber back into Republican hands.
McCarthy’s ploy may or may not motivate Trumpers to get to the polls next year—a group that hasn’t been particularly reliable in off years when Trump isn’t on the ticket.
But one thing his posture won’t do is win over many of the small-but-crucial slice of swing voters who could decide the outcome of next year’s midterms.
As conservative commentator Charlie Sykes said on MSNBC’s Deadline: White House on Monday, “If you wanted to choreograph the worst possible political scenario, it’s hard to do a better job than what Kevin McCarthy has done.”