Susan Estrich commentary: Jan. 6 and the Rule of Law in America
Summary: A month ago, with inflation and gas prices skyrocketing to the point that they overtook even a war and a pandemic among public concerns, it seemed the president and the Democrats were doomed to a disastrous midterm. But leave it to the Washington Republicans (including those sitting on the Supreme Court) to find ways to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.
The House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol announced on Thursday that it has taken the unprecedented move of issuing subpoenas to five House members who have refused to speak voluntarily to their colleagues on the committee. The five distinguished gentlemen, as House members call each other, are led by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been caught playing both sides to the middle in former President Donald Trump's personal war on democracy. That war will take center stage next month, when the Committee, which has reportedly conducted over 1,000 interviews, begins public hearings.
There are many people who would have us forget what happened on that January day, who say it's time to move along and not divide the country. Sorry, but that's all wrong by my lights.
Jan. 6 should have nothing to do with who you voted for and everything to do with your belief in the sanctity of voting. It shouldn't be about supporting Trump for president but supporting democracy. Or not.
The problem for Republicans is how many of them, then and now, went along with Trump's efforts to subvert democracy for his own benefit. Former President Richard Nixon only wanted to bug the Democrats, to spy on the other side. Trump, lest we forget, wanted to steal the election. When it became plain, and it did, rather quickly as court after court rebuked him, that the effort to install Trump for a second term was an effort to undermine the Constitution, Republican participation should have ended. That it did not, that some Republicans continued to plan and to plot, to lie and mislead, is wrong. That is what the Committee wants to talk to these Republicans about.
McCarthy has attempted to dismiss the entire Jan. 6 investigation as politics as usual. Not so. Politics as usual is about conceding gracefully when you lose, putting the interest of the country ahead of your partisan pain and getting on with it.
Getting on with it, with defeat and the transition, and supporting the legitimacy of the victor, is precisely what these Republicans did not do. The five were subpoenaed because they refused to speak to their colleagues voluntarily. They will no doubt fight the subpoenas, claiming -- as have others who have gone before them, without success so far -- that the committee is not legitimate (and therefore its subpoenas not lawful) because the Republican leader withdrew his nominees. So, what? Only two Republicans serve on the committee because the Republicans in the House are a collection of gutless wonders who were afraid to investigate how it was that the Capitol was invaded, the lives of our leaders put at risk and literally the process of democracy shut down.
All politics? If that's how the Republicans insist on seeing it, then they are about to witness themselves hoisted on their own petard. A month ago, with inflation and gas prices skyrocketing to the point that they overtook even a war and a pandemic among public concerns, it seemed the president and the Democrats were doomed to a disastrous midterm. But leave it to the Washington Republicans (including those sitting on the Supreme Court) to find ways to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.
Two, so far. One is abortion and the certainty that young women in key states will have a reason to vote in the fall as if their lives depend on it. Because they could. The second is Trump, whose legal woes deepen even as his determination to control the Republican Party becomes all the more apparent. The reenactment of Jan. 6 in summer hearings -- reminiscent of the Watergate hearings 50 years earlier -- will bring Trump to center stage just as the final ruling by the Supreme Court overturning Roe will trigger laws prohibiting abortion in the first and second trimester in 13 states. It could be a long and hot summer leading to the midterm, full of the kind of politics that reminds us that certain values and principles count more than partisanship. Or should.
Susan Estrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .