WASHINGTON — The two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection railed against leaders in their own party on Tuesday after four police officers testified about their experiences.
In their remarks and questioning, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, while repeatedly insisting that Congress needs to determine what exactly happened that day and who was responsible so it doesn’t happen again, castigated Republicans who have downplayed the insurrection.
"Almost every member of the Republican Conference understood, in the days immediately after Jan. 6, what had actually happened, and many of them said so publicly,” Cheney told reporters after the hearing. “And the fact that so many members of our leadership, and others, the fact that they've gone from recognizing what happened on the 6th to protesting in front of the Justice Department on behalf of those who were part of the insurrection is something that I can't explain. I think it's a disgrace."
Tuesday marked the first hearing for the committee, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the creation of last month. The select committee was not what Democrats, or Republicans like Cheney and Kinzinger, initially had in mind. In May, the House passed a bipartisan bill to create an independent commission that would investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection, but it was blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
Pelosi chose Cheney as one of her appointments to the select committee this month and later added Kinzinger as another Republican. Both Cheney and Kinzinger voted to impeach former president Donald Trump for his actions on Jan. 6. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled his own appointments from the committee after Pelosi refused to seat two of them.
McCarthy and other Republican members of Congress held a press conference outside of the Capitol ahead of Tuesday's hearing, mainly to bash it. Members spoke to the preparedness of Capitol Police and said several times that Pelosi was trying to cover up an investigation into her role in the Capitol not being ready for the insurrection.
Cheney, in her opening remarks, said the point of the hearing for her was to learn every detail of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and to have a better understanding of Trump’s role.
“We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House — every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack,” she said. “Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward. If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system.”
Kinzinger, holding back tears, also said at the hearing that Americans “deserve” to know the truth of what happened that day.
“This cannot continue to be a partisan fight,” he said ahead of his questioning. “I’m a Republican. I’m a conservative. But in order to heal from the damage caused that day, we need to call out the facts. It’s time to stop the outrage and the conspiracies that fuel the violence and division in this country. And, most importantly, we need to reject those that promote it.”
He’s on the committee, he later said, “not in spite of [his] membership in the Republican Party, but because of it.”
As much as they stand apart on the committee as the lone Republicans, they also now stand out in their party.
"Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are being lauded as courageous heroes,” Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, one of the four witnesses, said at the close of Tuesday’s hearing. “And while I agree with that notion, why? Because they told the truth? Why is telling the truth hard? I guess in this America, it is."
Cheney also evoked Trump's rhetoric the day of the attack, asking Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell to respond to how the former president characterized the insurrectionists.
“When you think about that and share with us the vivid memory of the cruelty and the violence and the assault that day, and then you hear former president Trump say it was ‘a loving crowd,’ ‘there was a lot of love in the crowd’ — how does that make you feel?” Cheney asked.
"I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day," Gonell responded.
Cheney has a unique and powerful role on the committee. Until this winter, she was one of the top-ranking Republicans in Congress. A daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, she has deep conservative roots, which she cited explicitly in her opening statement Tuesday. But she found herself completely out of step with her party after the January insurrection, for which she immediately blamed Trump. That move eventually led to her fellow Republicans stripping her of her leadership position. Most recently, McCarthy referred to her and Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans.”
Trump has not been subtle about his own feelings toward Cheney after the insurrection, frequently sending out press statements attacking her and encouraging someone to run against her in next year’s Republican primary in Wyoming.
Kinzinger has also been openly critical of Trump and publicly assailed him on social media. Like Cheney, he voted to impeach the former president and immediately earned a pro-Trump challenger for his House seat in Illinois. Kinzinger’s family members wrote a two-page letter, which was published in the New York Times, denouncing the lawmaker and calling for his removal from office.
He also addressed the counternarrative that Republicans have tried to spin when discussing the Jan. 6 riots: that the incidents were preceded by the racial justice protests of summer 2020, which resulted in vandalism of retail stores and federal and state monuments, and that those protests deserve investigation.
“There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law. Between a crime, even grave crimes, and a coup,” he said.
Cheney asked members of Congress in her opening statement: “Will we adhere to the rule of law, respect the rulings of our courts, and preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution? I pray that is not the case.”