I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 11 minutes.
The January 6th commission. Plus, a Tangle raffle and a reader question about masks.
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There was a lot of great feedback to yesterday’s newsletter on critical race theory. Some of it, frankly, persuasive enough to move my position a bit. I don’t think you’ll ever see me supporting outright bans on teaching certain critical theories in schools, but many readers made a strong case about a) the damage CRT teaching is doing in their communities and b) the fact there are better alternatives for anti-racism training. Here’s one such note:
“The thing is, you could have had all those eye-opening experiences through diversity trainings that were not based in CRT!” Kira from New Jersey said. “Chloe Valdary's Theory of Enchantment is a prime example of an antiracism training that is not founded in CRT. CRT is, in fact, skeptical of empathy as a means to reduce racist attitudes (see ‘empathetic fallacy’ on the CRT Wikipedia page; I have also seen this viewpoint in action). The training that was done where I used to work seemed to sow division, awkwardness, and paranoia rather than fostering compassion and empathy… Of all the issues out there, I really wish there was a space for ‘other’ in terms of what the ‘left’ and ‘right’ are saying. I'm generally a lefty, but I feel so far afield from most of the vocal liberals on this issue.”
A U.S. aircraft carrier is leaving Asia to help accelerate the Afghanistan troop withdrawal. (Wall Street Journal, subscription)
Roman Protasevich, the Belarusian journalist and dissident who was taken off a diverted passenger airliner earlier this week, appeared in a video “confessing” to organizing mass riots. Experts say the video shows signs of coercion and torture. (The Washington Post, subscription)
President Biden will meet Vladimir Putin face to face in mid-June (The New York Times, subscription). Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel and pushed for U.S. aid to rebuild Gaza. (The New York Times, subscription)
New York prosecutors convened a special grand jury to consider evidence in a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s business dealings. (Fox News)
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has significantly scaled back its street-level enforcement under President Biden, carrying out fewer than 3,000 deportations last month, the lowest level on record. (The Washington Post, subscription)
What D.C. is talking about.
January 6. In recent months, Democrats have been pushing for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the riots at the Capitol on January 6. The commission would be a 10-person body that would investigate the cause of the riot, as well as the events that led up to it. The riot caused some 140 injuries and tens of millions of dollars of damage. Five people also died on January 6, including a woman shot by a Capitol police officer, though two died of natural causes and one — Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick — suffered a stroke after engaging rioters. Two other Capitol police officers committed suicide in the days after.
Last week, 35 Republicans in the House of Representatives joined Democrats to vote in favor of establishing the investigatory commission. Four-fifths of House Republicans opposed the commission, but it passed with a 252-to-175 vote. Democrats argued the commission was crucial to understanding what happened that day, and the independent commission would make suggestions for better securing the Capitol and preventing similar events in the future.
Former President Trump urged Republicans not to vote for the commission, calling it a “Democrat trap.” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) opposed the bill, saying several committees were already investigating the day’s events and noting that $10 million has been allocated to improve Capitol security.
The bill is now in the Senate, where the commission is facing stiff opposition after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced his opposition to the bill, and colleagues quickly fell in line. McConnell suggested the bill could interfere with criminal cases and raised concerns that a Democratic chairman would control staff hiring (even though the commission would be split evenly between Republicans and Democrats). Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he planned to force a vote on the commission.
Below, we’ll take a look at some reactions from the right and left.
What the right is saying.
The right mostly opposes the commission, arguing that it is a partisan effort to tie all Republicans to the riots.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the commission “could be useful if it answered outstanding questions and agreed on a common set of facts about events,” but the prospects for that are “none and slimmer.”
“Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been driving this idea, and she has a record of using these commissions for partisan ends. Her goal here is to drive her narrative that the riot was a planned attempted coup, and to run on that theme to keep the House in 2022…But hidden in the fine print are tools empowering Democrats,” it said. “The bill gives the chairman unilateral authority to demand information from federal agencies and appoint senior staff. ‘Thanks to powers invested in the Chairperson alone, the Democratically-appointed members would have significant control over the direction of the investigation’ and the ability to stop GOP members from ‘engaging in mischief,’ New York University law professor Ryan Goodman reassured a Washington Post writer… Multiple investigations of the Jan. 6 events are already underway… Unless a commission could work together, its effort would be redundant.”
In Newsweek, Ben Weingarten said the commission is part of a “rolling effort to exploit the inexcusable, pathetic and disgraceful actions of several hundred people to further the narrative that up to half the country constitutes would-be or potential domestic terrorists.”
“But perhaps most disturbing is this: The proposed commission is to be charged with investigating and reporting upon, in part, ‘the influencing factors that fomented such [an] attack on American representative democracy while engaged in a constitutional process.’ In pursuit of this effort, it ‘may secure directly from any Federal department or agency information, including any underlying information that may be in the possession of the intelligence community, that is necessary to enable it to carry out its purposes and functions.’
“The danger herein is obvious,” Weingarten said. “This commission would give partisans the ability to use the full powers of the federal government to investigate their wrong thinking political foes. ‘Influencing factors that fomented such [an] attack’ are, of course, virtually limitless. Are you a politician who dared question the legitimacy of any aspect whatsoever of the 2020 presidential election? Are you a think tank that pointed out any of the anomalies in that contest? Are you a law firm that litigated against state executives and administrators who made election law over and above state legislatures themselves? Are you a media organization that printed stories covering these themes, or a social media maven who promoted them? Why would we assume anything other than all of the above, and more, would end up in the commission's crosshairs?”
In Deseret News, Samuel Benson had a different take, saying Republicans were moving on from the commission “at their own peril.”
“McConnell claims it’s a ‘slanted’ and ‘unbalanced’ proposal, one born in ‘partisan bad faith.’ Sen. Marco Rubio opposes it, even though he hasn’t read the bill. Sen. Josh Hawley is upset it doesn’t investigate violent Black Lives Matter protests throughout 2020, too. And Sen. Ron Johnson now claims Jan. 6 was just a largely ‘peaceful protest.’ As of now, Sen. Mitt Romney stands as the lone Republican senator committed to voting for the commission,” Benson wrote.
“An investigation is wise on its merits, but there are also sound, partisan reasons for a Jan. 6 commission. It’s exactly what the Republican Party, neck-deep in an identity crisis, needs to restore the American public’s confidence in the party,” he added. “Setting the record straight on one of the party’s darkest days will serve, at best, as a means to successfully move on from the issue. It’s an opportunity to address the matter and show penitence where appropriate, thereby winning back disgruntled Americans who gave up on the party after the Jan. 6 events. In the days following Jan. 6, at least 140,000 Republicans in 25 states changed their party affiliations, and it’s likely tens of thousands more in other states did the same. Such a large-scale exodus is very unusual, political scientists say, and it poses a serious threat to the GOP and the success of its message. Conservative lawmakers should be seeking to find a way to regain the trust of those who left the party but may yet return.”
What the left is saying.
The left supports the commission, arguing that it’s a necessary step towards understanding the events of that day — and preventing a similar event from happening again.
In Vox, Andrew Prokop pointed out that Republicans were the ones who suggested the idea for a commission in the first place — only to make an about-face.
“Republicans have evidently calculated that such a commission’s findings would likely hurt their party’s electoral prospects,” Prokop wrote. “Some even admit this: ‘Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election, I think, is a day lost on being able to draw contrast between us and the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda,’ Senate Minority Whip John Thune told reporters last week… Even though Republicans would likely be able to prevent a bipartisan 1/6 commission from achieving much of substance, they’d really prefer not to have one at all.
“That’s because, as Thune admitted above and as Liz Cheney’s ouster shows, party strategists view any discussion of Trump’s attempt to overturn the election result as a harmful issue for their party at this point,” Prokop said. “They want to make the 2022 elections about Biden and Democrats, not Trump… The GOP base is out of step with public opinion on this issue. So they’d really like it to just go away.”
In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait criticized Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader, for opposing the commission.
“McCarthy’s putative reasons for rejecting the commission boil down to two main points,” Chait said. “First, he calls the hearing ‘duplicative,’ citing an ongoing criminal investigation by the Justice Department and hearings in the Senate Homeland Security Committee. McCarthy has not previously evinced much concern over the damage of duplicative hearings, having supported ten investigations into Benghazi, six of them in the House, the last of which he frankly described as an effort to damage Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.”
“Second, he claims that the January 6 investigation fails to appropriately emphasize the events he wishes to use as deflections,” Chait added. “It ‘ignores the political violence that has struck American cities, a Republican Congressional baseball practice, and, most recently, the deadly attack on Capitol Police on April 2, 2021.’ It is true that this investigation of a violent insurrection by the president’s allies, intending to pressure Congress to overturn the election results and hand the sitting president an unelected second term, does not principally focus on other, different violent episodes. The September 11 Commission did not get into the Oklahoma City bombings or the invasion of Grenada. Street gangs taking advantage of protests to loot stores, or mentally ill loners attempting to kill politicians are different problems than a president attempting to cancel an election because he lost.”
In The Washington Post, Greg Sargent laid out the five “ludicrous” reasons Republicans oppose the commission and deconstructed them: “1) The commission is too “partisan.”… 2) The timing is all wrong… 3) The commission has been hijacked by politics… 4) The commission should also focus on police protests… 5) Other existing committees should do this.”
“This will generate lots of outrage,” Sargent wrote. “But that isn’t the right sentiment. It implies that on this matter, Republicans can be shamed into following latent principles that they might otherwise adhere to if criticism of them is pointed enough. But their excuses are so untethered from anything remotely resembling good-faith argumentation that no such presumption is deserved. A better response is to point out that Republicans oppose the commission because it will incriminate them, and that their phony justifications are merely about obscuring this truth — and nothing more.”
It’s a pretty depressing spectacle.
The day after the January 6 riots, I wrote that it was the end of Trump’s political career, that he had successfully ended our streak of peaceful transfers of power, and that the mob storming the Capitol would go down as one of the more shameful days in American history. Trump’s influence on the party has not yet waned, but the rest of it holds true.
Do I think this was some kind of coup? No. Is this anything like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor? Of course not. Those comparisons are overblown. Was it domestic terrorism? The FBI defines that as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” You be the judge. Was it an insurrection? That’s defined as “a violent uprising against an authority or government.” Again: I don’t think it’s nutty to say these events fit that definition.
Whatever you want to call it, here’s what I’d say: a bunch of buffoons collectively stormed one of the most sacred places in our nation’s capital, ransacked offices, beat up police, caused millions of dollars of damage and compelled Capitol Police to use deadly force to protect our elected representatives (even if there’s a reasonable debate about whether that force was necessary). It might have been a spontaneous decision to storm the building, but it didn’t spring forth from nothing. The mob very clearly stated their intent to injure or kill members of Congress — out loud, on video, on social media. Weeks of events and planning around the rally led to the riot. And a lot of money was involved in making it all happen.
So I think it’s worthy of a commission.
Yes, there are other investigations. And yes, I’m concerned about our spy agencies overreaching on claims of domestic terrorism and concerned about how rioters are being treated in jail. But the Congressional committees are almost singularly focused on boosting Capitol security, and it’s the Justice Department that is responsible for nailing down criminal charges. Other important questions about that day still linger: was this an organized plan or spontaneous looting? Were members of Congress involved in any way, shape or form, besides perpetuating the lie of a stolen election? What about the pipe bombs planted the night before? What about the riot’s exposure of the vulnerability of hard copy electoral ballots? And of course, why were the Capitol Police so understaffed and underprepared, and the National Guard so slow to respond?
Democrats are going to try to centralize power on the commission. I’m not going to pretend there aren’t political calculations being made on the left. That’s how it always goes. But at least they’re standing on solid ground. The bill text on staff hiring for the commission is identical to the 9/11 commission, as Susan Collins suggested, and identical to that of a Jan 6 commission Republicans proposed shortly after the riots. Even if the House bill isn’t satisfactory, that’s the point of sending it to the Senate. Propose amendments. Negotiate. Change the bill.
Instead, Republicans are planning to filibuster. And for what? 65 percent of the public wants an independent commission, including 37 percent of Republicans. 52 percent already believe Trump is solely or mainly to blame for January 6. The politics of investigating it might be bad, but the politics of ignoring it could be far worse.
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If you’re on the left, you probably missed the story of Dr. Anthony Fauci saying he was no longer confident COVID-19 emerged naturally.
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Your questions, answered.
Q: I've seen some comments from people saying things like "I'll continue wearing a mask to avoid being labeled a Republican.” While I think it's mainly a joke, do you think there is some underlying truth to this? Will the mask become just another way to virtue signal rather than "listening to the science"?
— Chris, Philadelphia, PA
Tangle: I think the vast, vast majority of people — liberals included — don’t like wearing masks. And if they are wearing one, I suspect there’s probably a good reason for it. My advice would be to proceed with caution. Some people are immunocompromised, some people are unvaccinated (for a myriad of reasons), some people are simply traumatized from the last year and not ready to take it off. I know there have been some articles about the “forever maskers,” too, who seem to find comfort in the face covering. Masks are, after all, quite common in other parts of the world.
I’m sure there are some people putting on their masks to signal their political ideology and the fact they are “not a Republican.” That strikes me as extremely childish and silly. Regardless, I don’t think it’s going to be particularly common (I’d venture to say that in a few months, it’ll be exceedingly rare).
Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I am not wearing my mask anywhere it’s not mandated. I went to my best friend’s wedding on Saturday and did not wear a mask. I ate dinner indoors last night, maskless (need your mouth for food), then went to the Brooklyn Nets playoff game (which was absolutely glorious). I went to the gym on Monday for the first time since March of 2020. It was a “mask optional” setting and I chose not to wear one. I’m healthy, relatively young, fully vaccinated and blessed enough not to need a mask — I’d prefer not face-sweating and smelling my own breath all day, so I’m pretty much done with them.
But I’m also going to be respectful. At the height of the pandemic, I was disheartened to see how many people refused to wear masks. Nevertheless, I never demanded anyone put one on or wear one around me. I just avoided them. It was a scary time with lots of unknowns, and I had people in my life who were very high-risk, so I took every precaution I could. Now, I’m not going to question anyone who takes a while to remove the mask — or those who may wear it for years to come. If they want to keep it on, it doesn’t impact me at all, and I’m sure they’ve got their reasons.
A story that matters.
More foreign-born Americans are moving to the center of the U.S. than in past years, according to a new report by the Heartland Forward. Population growth in the U.S. is slower than it’s been in a century, but industries across America are relying more on immigrant workers now than in years past. “The report's findings counter perceptions that immigrants tend to settle on the coasts ‘because they're not welcome’ in the middle of the country,” Axios reported. “Those invested in the region believe there's a case to be made for attracting immigrants of all skill levels to the country's geographic middle.” (Axios)
37%. The percentage of conservative Republicans who support the formation of a bipartisan Congressional commission to investigate the January 6 attack.
55%. The percentage of moderate Republicans who support the formation of a bipartisan Congressional commission to investigate the January 6 attack.
86%. The percentage of moderate Democrats who support the formation of a bipartisan Congressional commission to investigate the January 6 attack.
97%. The percentage of liberal Democrats who support the formation of a bipartisan Congressional commission to investigate the January 6 attack.
$110 million. The amount of new funding for Palestinians announced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
2 million. The number of people who evacuated an Indian coast in preparation for a storm.
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Have a nice day.
For the first time in more than 3,000 years, a baby Tasmanian devil was born in the wilds of mainland Australia. In 2020, 26 Tasmanian devils were set free on a 1,000-acre sanctuary in Barrington Tops. The home is designed to protect them from some long-time rivals, as well as fires and disease. But it’s the Tasmanian devil’s natural habitat, and they were effectively left to their own devices with only hopes that they would breed. “We have been working tirelessly for the better part of 10 years to return devils to the wild of mainland Australia with the hope that they would establish a sustainable population,” Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, said. “Once they were back in the wild, it was up to them, which was nerve wracking. We had been watching them from afar until it was time to step in and confirm the birth of our first wild joeys. And what a moment it was!”