Freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville gave a revealing comment on Monday about his opposition to legislation that would establish a commission to study the Jan. 6 insurrection, which has already passed the House of Representatives. The Alabama Republican told Forbes' Andrew Solender that he can't support the commission "until they make it bipartisan."
When Solender shared the comment on Twitter, Tuberville quickly became the subject of mockery. In the short time since he won his first election in 2020, he's become known for making obtuse comments — including the revelation that he didn't know the three branches of American government. His new comment is similarly ridiculous, because the commission he's discussing is absolutely bipartisan in every meaningful sense. It will be split evenly between Republican and Democratic appointees, who jointly share subpoena power. It was the result of bipartisan negotiations. And it won bipartisan support in the House, with 35 Republicans along with all the Democrats voting in its favor.
So Tuberville's comment was patently ridiculous — the commission is already bipartisan, so if his answer were honest, he should already support it.
But it was a revealing answer nevertheless. It clarified just how disingenuous the opposition to the commission has become among Republicans. Because while other Republicans gave excuses for opposing the commission that were less hamfisted than Tuberville's, they were, in truth, just as contrived.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, cooked up the bizarre concern that precisely because the commission requires bipartisan support to issue a subpoena, it will allow Democrats to leak when any subpoena fails to get approval, thus casting aspersion on the target. This explanation for opposing the commission is just as phony as Tuberville's because surely Rubio wouldn't want a commission where Democrats could unilaterally issue subpoenas. The only conclusion can be that he won't support a commission at all, even though he won't admit it that straightforwardly.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins has raised concerns that the commission will extend its work into 2022 — even though the legislation specifically calls for it to be done by the end of 2021 (a condition some argue makes the investigation too truncated.) There's no good reason for limiting the timeline so dramatically, but Republicans fear that the commission's work could impact their party negatively in the 2022 election. Of course, they had no qualms when Attorney General Bill Barr suggested he might release a report on the investigation into the origins of the Russia probe in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Rubio and others, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested that the existing investigations into Jan. 6 are sufficient and that the commission is unnecessary. But this explanation doesn't track, either. The Justice Department investigations are about the crimes that were committed, but they aren't designed to examine non-criminal behavior that might have contributed to the attack or to share broader lessons about the events as a political matter for Congress and the country. Specific investigations about security failures at the Capitol are important, but they won't have subpoena power or address the threat to democratic stability. And existing investigations within congressional committees are, in fact, controlled by sitting elected Democrats, so they won't have the independence, bipartisanship, and authority that the commission would have.
The fact is this: Republicans can't say what they really think, which is that they don't want a commission because they're not concerned with finding bipartisan solutions to the violence, authoritarianism, and anti-democratic sentiment that their party has cultivated.