Plenty of stray thoughts have been swirling through my noggin lately.
Thoughts like: What would Americans and members of Congress think today if the federal government decided against creating the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John Kennedy?
What would we think today if the House and Senate two decades ago rejected an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the aborted airliner attack on either the White House or Capitol?
What would Americans and members of Congress think if the government refused to convene a special commission after World War II to investigate the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor?
The answers are simple: Americans back then and those serving in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, would rightfully believe our government was failing to properly do its job if officials refused to conduct in-depth investigations of these tragedies to see what lessons could be learned.
Were warning signs ignored or overlooked leading up to these events? Could improved security help avoid future occurrences like these? Are our laws and government agencies adequate?
Americans and members of Congress were not obsessed in 1945, 1963 and 2001 with which political party might score points with voters from these investigations. Instead, the focus each time was on country, not on partisan politics.
Democrats controlled the White House and the Congress at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. But they didn’t try to block an inquiry into the “Day of Infamy.”
Democrats held the White House and both chambers of Congress at the time of the Kennedy assassination. But both parties knew the Warren Commission was necessary.
A Republican occupied the White House when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and George W. Bush’s party had divided control over the House and Senate. But Republicans did not block the investigation.
That brings us to 2021 and last week’s unfathomable decision by Senate Republicans to kill a planned independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
Five deaths and 140 injuries were tied to the mob violence, which Americans watched on television as thousands stormed the symbol of our democracy. The rioters busted through doors, broke windows and vandalized the building for seven hours — all in an attempt to thwart the official tabulation of Electoral College votes for president.
This was a direct assault on our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power after a hard-fought election campaign. Capitol Police and Secret Service had to hustle members of Congress and the vice president to safety while rioters moved into the building.
Nevertheless, Iowa’s two senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, voted against an independent commission to investigate the lack of preparedness by law enforcement, the Pentagon’s slow response to calls for help, and questions about the roles played by President Donald Trump’s supporters or liberal extremists.
Grassley said the commission is unneeded because investigations already are under way by congressional committees and federal prosecutors. In a swipe at Democrats, Ernst said, “What’s the point? It’s turning into a political exercise.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the commission would be “slanted and unbalanced” — even though it is modeled on the 9/11 commission and would have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.
The attitude of most Republican lawmakers represents a stunning change from their position seven years ago when the House was under Republican control. They voted then to create a select committee to investigate the 2012 terrorist attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed there, including the ambassador.
Republicans were not worried then the investigation might appear to be a political exercise to cast Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a potential presidential candidate, in an unflattering light. Republicans were not worried then the committee would duplicate other Benghazi investigations. In fact, the select committee’s investigation was the sixth the Republicans conducted.
Last week, after the defeat of the Jan. 6 riot commission, Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican Party, called Senate Republicans “pathetic cowards” for buckling under political pressure instead of standing up for what is best for the nation.
Not all Republicans showed this lack of courage. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa voted “yes” for the bipartisan commission. “We need to know where there were failures in leadership,” she said. “And some of those failures may rest at the feet of Democrats. So, I think it’s very important to have those questions answered.”
Gladys Sicknick wants questions answered, too.
Her son, Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, was among the cops who struggled valiantly to keep rioters out of the Capitol on Jan. 6. He died the next day after a stroke.
She spoke about Republican lawmakers who oppose the special commission. “Putting politics aside, wouldn’t they want to know the truth of what happened on Jan. 6?” she asked — posing the question that many Iowans are asking and that historians will ask for many years to come.
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and a former opinion page editor at The Des Moines Register. He can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.
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