The Jan. 6 Hearing Was Just the Beginning
The hearings not only revealed how close democracy was to being lost in 2021 -- but how close it is in 2024.
Ahead of the June 9 primetime hearing by the January 6 Committee, prominent members of the commentariat judged it as a waste of time. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column entitled "The Jan. 6 Committee Has Already Blown It." Also writing in the Times, author Jacob Bacharach wrote that the hearings "may well be a dud" since the "televised congressional hearing, as a genre, has likewise been in decline for a long time."
A dud? The committee established new facts and brought vivid detail to the riot instigated by President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 to try to overturn the results of a free and fair election. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) quoted a Trump adviser who said that the president, aware of the "Hang Mike Pence" chants, said "Maybe our supporters have the right idea. Mike Pence deserves it." She said that the committee had evidence that Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and multiple Republican congressmen sought pardons in the aftermath of the January 6 riot for their role in overturning the 2020 election. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who survived a traumatic brain injury as a result of the riots, testified that she "saw friends with blood all over their faces" and "was slipping in people’s blood" in what seemed like a "war zone."
Save for Fox News, which aired a commercial-free hour of Tucker Carlson's show ostensibly to keep viewers from switching to the other networks carrying the hearing, viewers were captivated. According to Nielsen ratings, 20 million people tuned in to watch the hearings, more than this year's Oscars or NBA Finals. (Carlson garnered 3.3 million viewers, an average night for him.)
Brooks' criticism was that the hearings should be looking forward, rather than looking back. He wrote that he did not want a committee that would "simply regurgitate what happened on Jan. 6, 2021. We need a committee that will preserve democracy on Jan. 6, 2025, and Jan. 6, 2029."
By looking back at the events of January 6, the hearings not only revealed how close the United States was to losing its democracy in 2020 -- but how close it still is in 2024. Cataloging the truth of the events of the day is worthwhile, even if about half of Republican voters believe that January 6 was an attempt to "defend freedom."
In 2024, many Republicans may be motivated to keep Trump in power even if he does not win to avoid prosecution. Beyond Rep. Perry, Cheney did not reveal how many Republicans sought pardons for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But by seeking pardons, they understood, on some level, that their efforts were not lawful and put them at risk of future prosecution. (The F.B.I. this past week arrested Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley for his role in the Jan. 6 riots; his campaign said he was a "political prisoner.")
Despite showing evidence of alarm and shock on January 6, 2021, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has since toadied to Trump. Some of the most striking footage from the hearing was of staffers from McCarthy's office running to hide as the rioters stormed the Capitol.
McCarthy told CBS News' Norah O'Donnell on January 6 that he told Trump that he needed to "stop this." Later in January, the minority leader told members on a call that he recommended that Trump resign. However, on January 28, 2021, McCarthy met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago to make amends and the two posed for a friendly photograph.
Republicans are favored to take back the House of Representatives, meaning that McCarthy may well be House speaker next year. He has refused to say that President Biden was elected fairly in the 2020 election. He was one of 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election after the rioters forced a lockdown and an hours-long delay in the certification of the election results. If Trump loses the election again in 2024, it's hard to see most Republicans voting to certify it -- and efforts to subvert it will likely be more sophisticated.
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