House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is playing a bad political hand as well as he can: when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his choices for the special committee investigating the Capitol riot, he announced he would pull everyone and launch his own parallel probe into the events of Jan. 6.
"We will run our own investigation," McCarthy said. "Why was the Capitol so ill-prepared for that day when they knew on Dec. 14 they had a problem? And what have we done to make sure that never happens again?" He added, "House Democrats must answer this question: Why are you allowing a lame-duck speaker to destroy this institution?"
The strategy is clear: make the Democrats plus Liz Cheney committee look even more like political theater. Turn the whole debate into one blaming Pelosi for poor Capitol security versus Democrats faulting former President Donald Trump's election claims for inciting the riot in the first place.
Will this help get to the bottom of the Capitol riot? Likely no. But congressional oversight, a legitimate constitutional duty, has long turned into a partisan exercise. Under Republicans, there were numerous hearings about former President Bill Clinton and later Benghazi that did little to move the needle of public opinion. Democrats conducted similar investigations into Trump's business dealings and alleged dalliances with Russians amid the country's efforts to swing the 2016 presidential election.
Red meat for partisans, to be sure, but unconvincing to anyone on the fence. Gone are the days of the Watergate committee blowing open a big scandal in an eventually if belatedly bipartisan fashion. Now, not even Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller is seen as an honest broker but rather a figure in the Democrats' quest to get the 45th president.
Cheney's presence on the Democrat-run committee, plus the general tone of the media coverage of Jan. 6, will give it marginally more legitimacy. But not much. There are legitimate questions about the organizers of the riot, the seriousness of the effort to disrupt the Electoral College certification, the extent of Capitol security preparation and, yes, Trump's culpability. There is a picture the individual rioter prosecutions probably can't paint. Unfortunately, Congress won't either.