Jan. 6 Hearings Set To Highlight Battle Between Democracy And Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — The House Jan. 6 committee’s long-awaited public hearings are set to start this week, promising to highlight the deep schism between Donald Trump and his allies on one side and democracy on the other.

The committee planned a half-dozen hearings over two weeks to lay out its findings from more than 1,000 interviews — a great many compelled by a subpoena — and more than 100,000 pages of documents, with the hope of boiling it down to an easily digested narrative about what the former president tried to do to remain in power.

“They’ve got massive amounts of information. They’ve interviewed massive numbers of people,” said J. Michael Luttig, the retired federal appellate judge who advised former Vice President Mike Pence that he had no authority to overturn the election as Trump was demanding. “They’ve got to condense this down and tell one simple story.”

To Luttig, who expects to appear as one of the witnesses during the hearings, that story is not at all complicated. “The single story they’ve got to tell the American people is that our democracy is in peril,” he said. “When Trump denies that he lost the election and promises to do the same next time in order to ensure that he wins, he is driving a stake through the heart of our democracy.”

The committee announced an 8 p.m. prime-time start for its first hearing on Thursday, promising “previously unseen material” regarding “the coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power.”

Whether the hearings will affect Americans’ attitudes about the violent assault on the Capitol, Trump’s role in it and his party’s continued support for him is another story. Polling in recent months shows that concerns about that day and the state of democracy generally have plummeted and have been displaced by worries about food prices, gasoline prices, mass shootings, a coming Supreme Court decision on abortion, a shortage of infant formula, immigration and other issues.

“The Jan. 6 hearings are old news,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. “Nothing that comes out of the hearings is likely to change anyone’s opinion regarding who to vote for in the midterms.”

A half-century ago, televised hearings about the Watergate break-in and Richard Nixon’s role captivated Americans and eroded support for his presidency, eventually leading to his resignation.

Fifty years later, though, the media environment is almost unrecognizably different, with hundreds of television channels and online outlets instead of three dominant news networks and a few dozen major metropolitan newspapers.

Meaning that although Nixon’s assault on democracy was minor compared to Trump’s, the coming hearings — regardless of how explosive the committee’s findings — are unlikely to hurt Trump’s standing much within the GOP or among Americans generally.

Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump GOP consultant who conducts frequent focus groups of Republican voters, said some new, dramatic piece of information could “concentrate the dialogue” for some period of time, but for the most part, opinions are not going to change. “It’s mostly baked in,” she said.

She added that most Republicans see Jan. 6 as “unfortunate,” but that it was time to move on. “They don’t think it was Trump’s fault,” she said.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to move ahead with a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol after Republicans blocked a resolution creating an independent commission, similar to what was done after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She then nixed Republican leader and fellow Californian Kevin McCarthy’s attempt to place election-result denying Trump supporters like Ohio’s Jim Jordan on the committee, which led to McCarthy pulling all of his selections.

Pelosi responded by appointing two Republicans to the committee: Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger and, as vice chair, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney. Both were among the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 attack, and both have been vocal critics of their party mates who downplay the seriousness of that day or claim that Trump had not done anything wrong.

Trump and many in his party have lashed out at any Republican who has criticized the former president’s actions on and leading up to Jan. 6, and have been particularly aggressive in their attacks on Cheney and Kinzinger. Earlier this year, both were censured by the Republican National Committee, and House GOP leaders are openly working to defeat Cheney as she seeks reelection. Kinzinger, whose district was eliminated by Illinois lawmakers after the state lost a seat in the 2020 Census, is not seeking to return to the House.

Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.

Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.

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