Skip to main content
analysis

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, on July 21.J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

The congressional hearings into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol resume next week after a two-month summer interregnum with a subtle but significant change in the American political environment, prompting a subtle but significant change in the focus of the investigation.

For eight hearings between June 9 and July 29, the seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel examined the events leading to, and on, the day thousands of Trump supporters rioted on Capitol Hill. But eight weeks since the summer hearings ended – a virtual eternity in U.S. politics – the focal point has shifted. The committee’s sense of urgency has pivoted from a deeply unsettling event in the past to disquieting rumblings about trouble in the future.

Since the committee last sat in public, there is fresh evidence that election-deniers have consolidated their position in the Republican Party and, in states from Massachusetts in the east to Nevada in the west, have nominated candidates for November’s general election who believe the 2020 vote was stolen from Donald Trump.

At the same time, there are new indications that several GOP candidates for the Senate and various gubernatorial races may not accept an election verdict unless it shows a Republican victory; several have refused to pledge that they will accept the verdict of the voters. This is especially relevant as the primary season has concluded and the party now is fielding election-deniers for statewide office in half the states. Candidates whom Mr. Trump endorsed prevailed in 81 per cent of “notable GOP primaries,” according to the respected Cook Political Report, which found that Mr. Trump “has been more successful in moving Republicans in his direction than progressives have been in moving Democrats to the left.”

The most important revelations from the January 6 hearings

Six key takeaways from Jan. 6 committee’s hearings on Capitol attack

When the hearings resume, what began as a high-toned television show is likely to have transitioned into a high-stakes warning shot.

The early emphasis of the hearings was preparing the ground for legal action against Mr. Trump. Now the emphasis is more on prevention (of a new assault on democracy) than on prosecution (of the former president).

“What is at stake here are the foundations of democracy, truth and the rule of law,” former senator Paul Kirk, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview. “We have a fellow who held the highest office in the land who weaponized those three sacred trusts. It doesn’t get any more serious than that.”

The hindsight that the committee has undertaken has given its members insight, which they hope will be enhanced by the decision this week by Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to testify before the committee on her interactions with lawyer John Eastman. Mr. Eastman pressed vice-president Mike Pence to obstruct the counting of electoral votes the day Trump supporters rampaged through the Capitol.

And while the emphasis of the committee’s examination has been on excoriating Mr. Trump, its attention has turned to thwarting new threats to democratic values and procedures. The committee’s final report is likely to provide recommendations on shoring up U.S. political institutions against threats to democracy.

A precursor appeared this week when two members of the committee – its co-chair, the renegade Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, and the Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California – introduced new legislation to clarify and codify the counting of electoral votes. The conservative Wall Street Journal swiftly endorsed the measure, and – with unusual dispatch – the House passed it on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Carter Center, founded 40 years ago by former president Jimmy Carter and a major force in assessing the integrity of elections across the globe, created a bipartisan Candidate Principles for Trusted Elections initiative, arguing that Trump-style election challenges are “not how elections are supposed to work, especially in the nation that invented modern democracy,” adding, “While these dynamics have the potential to undermine the very foundation of our government, more and more Americans are standing up for our democracy. They are looking to their leaders to do the same.”

The group is asking U.S. political candidates to pledge to uphold “five core doctrines of democratic elections: integrity, nonviolence, security, oversight, and the peaceful transfer of power.” The three candidates for secretary of state, which is responsible for election integrity, in Georgia, where Mr. Trump questioned the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory, swiftly took the pledge. That includes Republican Brad Raffensperger, whom Mr. Trump badgered in 2020 to “find 11,780 votes” so he could capture the state’s 16 electoral college votes.

Although a New York Times/Siena College poll released this week showed little erosion in Mr. Trump’s public support – which remains relatively stable at 44 per cent positive, 53 per cent negative – there are faint signs in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Washington State and New Hampshire that election denial may be a liability in the autumn midterm congressional elections, now only six weeks away.

Last month, Don Bolduc was asked during a New Hampshire Senate debate whether he still believed that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election. “I’m not switching horses, baby,” he replied. Weeks later, the Republican nomination in hand, he retreated.

“I’ve done a lot of research on this, and I’ve spent the past couple weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state from every party,” he told Fox News, “and I have come to the conclusion – and I want to be definitive on this – the election was not stolen.”