Editor’s Note: This analysis has been substantially updated with a comparison to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s draft proposal for a commission. We recommend reading the updated version: Margaret Shields and Heather Szilagyi, Chart: Comparing Pelosi’s Draft Legislation on Jan. 6 Commission to Other Bills and Prior Commissions, March 16, 2021.
On Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the decision “to establish an outside, independent 9/11-type Commission” to investigate the events of Jan. 6, 2021. According to Politico, “Democrats could release legislation creating that commission as soon as this week.” In the meantime, it is worth considering that members of Congress have already introduced two bills in the House of Representatives that would create such a commission.
Both bills draw heavily on the text of legislation that established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) established in 2002. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced H.R. 275 on Jan. 12, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced H.R. 410 on Jan. 21. Neither bill currently has cosponsors of the opposite political party. The former currently has 28 cosponsors; the latter has 11. Remarkably, half of the Republican cosponsors of H.R. 275 voted against certifying election results on Jan. 6, 2021.
Both bills would establish a bipartisan commission with a broad mandate to inquire into the circumstances and causes of the attack, official responses, and government preparedness. Both bills give the Commission power to hear testimony, collect evidence, and subpoena witnesses and documents. Also similar to the 9/11 Commission, the bills provide for a final report detailing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations for corrective measures that have been agreed to by a majority of the Commission. Both require the final report to be submitted to Congress and the President 18 months after enactment of the legislation.
The bills also differ in key respects. Both bills provide the view of Congress on the experiences and professional backgrounds that appointees to the Commission should possess. While H.R. 410 includes a depth of experience in racial justice as a valuable qualification, H.R. 275 does not. In contrast, H.R. 275 includes expertise in online disinformation, but H.R. 410 does not. H.R. 410 also includes a more detailed list of facts and circumstances that may be relevant to the investigation, including the “impact, if any, of the race of the attackers on the response of law enforcement,” and “the flow of assets to insurrectionist and domestic terrorist organizations.” The language used to describe the attack also differs, with H.R. 275 calling the events a “domestic terrorist attack” and H.R. 410 using the phrase “insurrectionist attack.” H.R. 275, unlike H.R. 410, would also allow up to two Members of Congress or other officers or employees of the federal government to serve on the Commission.
The chart below (also available as a PDF) details the major provisions of both 1/6 Commission bills and the 9/11 Commission legislation. Key differences are in bold.
Comparison of Congressional Bills for January 6 Commission Just Security