Republican leaders in Congress are doing everything in their power to block the creation of an independent commission that would get to the bottom of the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

It will be up to individual Republicans, such as Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, to stand against their party’s leaders, including former President Donald Trump, if we are going to make sure that what happened that day won’t happen again.

Collins has been supportive of the creation of a commission since the days after the attack, and she backed the idea as recently as last month. But on Wednesday, Maine’s senior senator indicated that she would need to see changes before she could support the bill that was produced by bipartisan negotiators in the House. Collins says she wants a deadline imposed on the commission’s work and revisions to the way that committee staff are hired.

Collins should advocate for her ideas and encourage Republican colleagues to join her in finding a way to support the creation of a commission. But if she can’t bring others over to her point of view, she should overcome her minor objections and vote “yes” on the bill. A less-than-perfect commission would be better than no commission at all, and this issue is too important for partisan obstruction.

It would be patterned on the 9/11 Commission, which identified key blind spots and rivalries within our intelligence and law enforcement agencies and laid the groundwork for a series of fundamental reforms. Its work was crucial in informing the public and history about the nature of the threat we faced.

When it came time to investigate the Jan. 6 riot, however, House Republican leaders actively campaigned against the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that he too would oppose it because, in part, the events were the subject of criminal investigations.


But there are limits to the legal system in matters like this. It’s not a crime to hold anti-government or extremist views. The First Amendment protects the dissemination of conspiracy theories as well as political speech. In most circumstances, it’s not illegal for a politician to lie.

But, as we saw on Jan. 6, Trump’s lies about the election ignited conspiratorial thinking and activated extremists. Many of the people who assaulted police officers and destroyed public property have been charged criminally and should be held accountable. But we need a fuller understanding of the forces that led them to violence.

We have to ask: Why don’t Republicans want this analysis to take place? Is there nothing that matters more to them than the results of the next election?

Four months ago, we learned how fragile our democracy really is. A mob overwhelmed the Capitol’s security and rushed the House and Senate chambers. They came within minutes of disrupting a presidential election, perhaps long enough to allow an authoritarian power grab.

If the rioters had been a little more organized – or a little more lucky – they might have succeeded. But even in defeat, they managed to show the world how easy it would be for a relatively small number of people to seize control of the government, and they provided a pretty good game plan for whoever wants to try it next.

On Wednesday, some Republicans showed us that our democracy is more even fragile than we thought.

Clarification: This editorial was altered at 10:15 a.m., May 20, to more clearly describe Sen. Susan Collins’ position on the bill. 

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.