A US House of Representatives vote Wednesday on setting up an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection will expose the quandary that now defines the Republican Party.
It’s the latest twist of a drama stretching from Washington to a sham election audit in Arizona, and in state legislatures passing bills making it tougher to vote.
Republicans everywhere are making the same choice, and almost all of them are siding with former President Donald Trump, his false claims of election fraud and his unchecked assault on US democracy.
Only a few, brave holdouts are standing firm against the tide — and risk sacrificing their careers to stand with their consciences and American democratic values.
The split will play out again on the House floor as the crucial vote takes place.
On one side of the dilemma is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who on Monday came out against a probe that would be likely to condemn the lies and instigation of the 45th President, whose coattails he hopes to ride to the speakership.
On the other side of the truth/Trump divide is Rep. Liz Cheney, the former House Republican conference chairwoman. The Wyoming lawmaker contradicted the former President’s lies and lost her leadership post to Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, whose ambition leaves her with fewer scruples about the truth. Cheney has company with a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate who voted to impeach and convict Trump after he told supporters to “fight like hell” to halt the certification of his election defeat.
The House bill on setting up the commission is still likely to pass, given the Democratic majority, and may garner some GOP votes since it is the product of a painfully reached bipartisan deal on the makeup of the panel and a mandate.
But the familiar choice between truth and lies, the Constitution and Trump, will just move to the Senate, on the other side of the citadel of US democracy that was defiled by Trump supporters on January 6.
McCarthy’s move prompted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to say he’d pressed “pause” on whether to support the commission, a day after it appeared there could be sufficient GOP support to enact the bill. His move set up a cliffhanger search by Democrats for the 10 Republican voters they need to make the commission a reality.
In a sign of the hidden hand seeking to impose his will on his party even while he is out of office, Trump issued a statement on Tuesday evening telling Republicans not to fall into a Democratic “trap.”
“Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!” Trump wrote.
It is not just in Washington that the big question about the Big Lie is dividing Republicans. State GOP lawmakers are answering it by using Trump’s lies about election fraud to pass multiple laws that make it harder to vote, some of which give state officials more power to interfere in local precincts.
The most flagrant example of Republicans seizing on Trump’s authoritarian attempt to undermine American democracy is in Arizona, where GOP state senators have launched a bogus audit of Maricopa County’s results.
The recount has been plagued by wild claims that massive amounts of votes were flown in from South Korea — or even a bizarre conspiracy theory that chickens had eaten some of the ballots and were then incinerated. Trump has added his own blatantly false allegations to the mix.
But some Republicans in Arizona are standing with their own consciences and the political freedoms that have underwritten the US way of life for generations.
“I think there’s a lot of fear that if you stand out against this, you will lose your career as a Republican politician,” said Stephen Richer, a Republican who serves as Maricopa County recorder, on CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday.
“I have certainly decided that that’s not as importan
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