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They backed a Jan. 6 commission. Now, they face heat in GOP primaries.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/27/2022 Annie Linskey
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In Illinois, a Republican congresswoman says her GOP colleague and rival “stabbed President Trump in the back.” In Mississippi, an insurgent conservative suggested his House Republican opponent should apologize. And in Utah, a candidate running to the right of a Republican member says his adversary “caved to the radical left.”

All three were focusing attention on the vote last year by their competitors to create a bipartisan “National Commission” to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which was done by a pro-Trump mob. Such criticism has put dozens of House Republicans on the defensive in this year’s primaries, forcing them to fend off condemnations from challengers who are using the vote to argue that the incumbents aren’t conservative enough, even though the commission, as specified in legislation, was never approved by the full Congress, much less assembled.

The prevalence of the criticism reflects the unease some Republicans have sensed among GOP base voters about the House select committee currently investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which held its latest public hearing Thursday. Even though only two Republicans — Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), who now sit on the panel — voted to create it, after the previous proposal failed in the Senate, many conservative candidates are zeroing in on the earlier vote for a commission as they try to tap into anger over the proceedings.

The next test of these political fault lines comes Tuesday, when five of the 35 House Republicans who voted for the commission will be on the ballot. So far, 12 have won or advanced from their primaries. Two have lost. Nine others retired or resigned.

THE ATTTACK: The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event.

This record shows there is clear path to surviving the criticism over the vote, which has usually involved pointing out the differences between the commission they supported and the current committee. But the overall tally obscures the work that incumbents have needed to do to defend against the attacks, some Republicans said.

“There is no question this was not a winning vote for them in terms of politics,” said Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman and ex-chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Tuesday’s races include a member-vs.-member primary in Illinois where the vote has come up and a showdown in Mississippi that surprised some observers when it went to a runoff. Further muddying the waters, Donald Trump has recently mused that he wished there were more Republicans on the House select panel.

Some of the GOP incumbents who backed the commission have pointed to his complaint as they’ve tried to explain their vote to primary voters, including Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss). “President Trump came out and I think he used the word ‘foolish’ that Republicans were not properly represented,” Guest said in an interview on the Gallo Radio Show. “The vote that I took; we would have been represented.”

The independent commission legislation would have enabled the congressional leadership of both parties to appoint members. The select committee gave that discretion to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), after consulting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). After Pelosi rejected two of his GOP picks, McCarthy pulled the rest of his Republican choices.

Guest, who first won his House seat in 2018, was forced into a Tuesday runoff against challenger Michael Cassidy. Cassidy finished ahead by nearly 300 votes in the June 7 primary, according to the Associated Press tally, but since no candidate won a majority, a runoff was triggered.

Cassidy decided to run for office in part because of the vote, said Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign aide who is now an adviser to Cassidy. “That was one of the key votes that Guest cast that motivated Cassidy to get in,” Braynard said.

One of Cassidy’s campaign ads includes a narrator saying: “Tuesday’s Republican primary isn’t just a choice between Congressman Guest and myself, it’s your chance to say ‘no’ to the Jan. 6 commission that Guest voted for.”

During a recent town hall, Cassidy highlighted that the legislation Guest backed, calling it the “intellectual father” of the later bill to create the select panel and adding, “If you’ve made a mistake, then you should be able to take a step back and say, you know what, I made a mistake, I apologize.”

Guest, who was among the 147 congressional Republicans who supported at least one objection to counting President Biden’s electoral votes, has spent the past few weeks aggressively pushing back with interviews on local media where he has sought to highlight the difference between the commission he backed and the current select committee hearings, said Rob Pillow, a spokesman for Guest. “Cassidy tried to muddy the water to confuse voters on what the congressman voted for and the committee,” Pillow said.


Video: Who Is On The Jan. 6 House Committee Investigating The Capitol Riot? (Newsweek)

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The vote in question was to create a “National Commission to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack.” The measure, which passed the House, was sponsored by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the current House select panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack. The select committee was only created after Thompson’s commission measure failed to muster the 60 votes needed in the Senate to advance. But with the committee hearings in the news, the distinction is lost on many voters, some Republicans say.

“Remember, perception is everything — and the way that people are perceiving this is just theater,” said Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), speaking about the recent hearings.

McDaniel, whose 2014 bid to unseat Republican Sen. Thad Cochran by running to his right failed after forcing the longtime incumbent to a runoff, added that conservatives view any further probe into Jan. 6 as unnecessary at best and at worst an attempt to push a narrative aimed at punishing Trump and his supporters. “Most conservatives that I know and I speak to about this issue see that vote is inexcusable, almost akin to betrayal,” McDaniel said.

To head off the attacks from Cassidy, Guest’s campaign is trying to put the focus on his opponent’s record, highlighting pricey items that he has expressed support for including plans to compensate newly married couples, cash payments to support children and expanding health care. Cassidy supports expanding the child tax credit and has disavowed the other items, Braynard said.

David Wasserman, a senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report who has been tracking the fate of the 35 members who voted for the commission, said such tactics have worked elsewhere.

In Idaho, he said, Rep. Mike Simpson (R) managed to fend off a challenger who accused him of having an “anti-Trump” voting record because of the commission vote by focusing on his opponent’s legal work for a debt collection agency.

“Even for those who’ve survived their primaries they’ve had to sweat in order to do it,” said Ken Spain, a GOP strategist and former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Members who have beaten back challengers, he noted, include those with long records and strong local brands. The newer members, or those introducing themselves to new voters thanks to redistricting, face stiffer head winds for the vote, he said.

In Illinois, where redistricting pits two incumbent House Republicans against each other on Tuesday, the Jan. 6 commission vote has also emerged as a key point of dispute. Rep. Rodney Davis voted for the commission, while Rep. Mary E. Miller voted against it and has referred to it as a “witch hunt.” She has tweeted that Davis “stabbed President Trump in the back by voting for the sham January 6th Commission!”

Trump appeared with Miller on Saturday at a rally in Illinois. Aides to Davis and Miller did not respond to requests for comment.

Even in races where it’s not a central issue, the vote has come up. In Utah, Rep. Blake D. Moore (R) is facing criticism from conservative challenger Andrew Badger, who won more support than Moore in a vote at April’s state Republican convention.

“Blake D. Moore has consistently caved to the radical left,” reads Badger’s website. Below that he lists the commission vote along with other decisions the challenger has criticized.

In a statement provided by his campaign, Moore said he wanted to “set the record straight.”

“I did not vote for Speaker Pelosi’s partisan committee that is further politicizing January 6th during an election year,” said Moore, distancing himself from the ongoing hearings. “The committee has been unfair since its beginning,” he added, noting the panel he voted for was never created.

But Moore also said he’s “consistent in denouncing the political violence at our nation’s Capitol on January 6th.”

In Oklahoma, where Rep. Stephanie I. Bice (R) is on the ballot Tuesday, a similar dynamic has emerged. Bice posted an explanatory video on social media last year shortly after casting her vote.

“I will not let this commission be a witch hunt by Nancy Pelosi,” Bice said in the video. “The purpose of the commission is not to go after President Trump,” she added.

She said that the questions she wanted answered revolved around Pelosi’s response, why the National Guard didn’t protect the building and “why a female Air Force vet was shot dead,” a reference to Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed Jan. 6 by a police officer as she and others stormed the Capitol.

Nevertheless Bice’s opponent, Subrina Banks, highlights the vote prominently on her campaign website. “Stephanie Bice is not Conservative,” the website reads, and the first example is her yes vote on the commission.

This month, Bice posted a lengthy message on her congressional website. “As you may remember, there were two bills voted on by the House of Representatives last year regarding Jan. 6. I voted in favor to establish a fair, nonpartisan commission,” she wrote.

Bice added that she “vehemently opposed legislation that established the Jan. 6 Select Committee, because I was deeply concerned it would be nothing but political theater for House Democrats. Sadly, this is precisely what we are witnessing today.”

The two Republicans who voted for the commission and have lost are Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), who also voted to impeach Trump, and Rep. David B. McKinley (W.Va.), who lost to Rep. Alex Mooney (W.Va.) in a race triggered by redistricting. That contest focused more on McKinley’s support for Biden’s infrastructure law, though Mooney referred to the Jan. 6 commission vote as a “witch hunt.”

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