Congress's most famous investigative committee was the Senate Watergate committee headed by Sen. Sam Ervin, Democrat, and Sen. Howard Baker, Republican. The bipartisan committee earned the nation's trust by approaching its work responsibly and honorably. The lawmakers didn't focus on scoring cheap political points against the other party. They didn't play to the TV cameras. They rose above narrow partisanship. Diligently and cooperatively, they sought out the truth.
In doing so, they held true to their mission: to serve the national interest, which is above mere party politics.
In our time, circumstances require a new investigative committee — one that will fully examine the reprehensible assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The committee, bipartisan in membership and in spirit, should follow the example set in the '70s by Ervin, Baker and their colleagues, seeking the full facts in order to develop a more complete understanding for the nation.
All Americans should be united in revulsion at the mob that overwhelmed the Capitol Police and swept into the U.S. Capitol through doors and smashed windows on Jan. 6 — as the Senate was in the process of certifying the presidential election.
Were the rioters merely a peaceable mob of oddballs, as some — including some members of Congress — now indicate? No, they were not.
“Execute the traitors! I wanna see executions!” a man shouted into a megaphone as the mob prepared to besiege the citadel of American democracy that winter day.
Some in the mob had erected a gallows — a gallows, incredibly, on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. Whether the structure was intended as symbolic or as a functioning device is irrelevant; the point is that its construction most certainly conveyed a message of rebellion and mayhem to the mob.
Inside the Capitol, rioters wearing tactical gear and carrying zip ties roamed the corridors. Some reached the very floor of the House — though lawmakers fortunately had exited.
Some rioters fixated, with utmost seriousness, on tracking down and securing Vice President Mike Pence. Why? Because they saw him as the pivotal figure in the certification process. With Pence subdued, it was thought, the mob could block the legal transition of presidential power — a bedrock principle of American governance.
The rioters' actions weren't the mere antics of innocents or the mischievous acts of eccentrics. What the nation witnessed on Jan. 6 was nothing less than an attempt to overturn a presidential election, fueled by the words and mania of the defeated candidate himself.
An investigation can serve the nation by explaining, methodically and clearly, the details of the riot; the multiple failures in the Capitol's security operations; the actions and inactions of the White House and Pentagon amid the tumult; and the systematic actions now needed to maintain proper security and ensure proper respect for the law.
It's encouraging that the House has given its approval to creating the committee, but at the moment but the Senate remains a question mark. Thirty-five Republican House members, looking to the national interest, last week defied their party leadership and voted in favor of the investigation. In joining that group of 35, Nebraska Reps. Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry showed integrity and statesmanship, standing up both to the self-serving tactics of the House GOP leadership and to pressure from Nebraska Republican stalwarts who regard any look back at Jan. 6 as an attack on former President Donald Trump.
Nebraska's other congressman, Rep. Adrian Smith, provided a disappointing contrast. Last week he voted "no." By taking that politically easy route, he ill served the state and the nation.
Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse now face an important decision. They can trot out the flimsy excuses GOP loyalists put forward to rationalize a "no" vote and thereby put party ahead of country.
Or they can do the right thing, for the long-term interest of the nation, and vote "yes."
There’s ample justification for a serious investigation, following in the responsible, bipartisan tradition set by Ervin, Baker and their colleagues decades ago. Surely it's not too late to revive such integrity and honor in our time too, for the sake of the country and its future.