Iowa Republicans split on January 6 commission, Asian hate resolution

The three Republicans now representing Iowa in the U.S. House rarely land on opposite sides in a floor vote. But Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) parted ways with most of her GOP colleagues in March by voting to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

That wasn’t an isolated incident. Miller-Meeks joined Democrats in two more closely watched House votes on May 19, while Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) stuck with the majority of the Republican caucus.

BIPARTISAN COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE JANUARY 6

House members approved a plan to create a “National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex Act.” Democratic Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Miller-Meeks were among the 217 Democrats and 35 Republicans supporting the bill, while Hinson and Feenstra were among the 175 Republicans who voted against it.

Republicans and Democrats would each appoint five members to the commission, which would have to finish its final report by the end of 2021. Arthur Delaney, Elise Foley, and Jennifer Bendery reported for the Huffington Post, “The panel’s appointees would have to come from outside of government and have ‘national recognition and significant depth of experience’ in fields like public service, law enforcement, technology and counterterrorism.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson and the ranking Republican on that committee, John Katko, worked extensively on the bill, initially with the blessing of House GOP leaders. However, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy turned against the effort in recent days. Republican members were whipped to vote against the legislation.

On the other hand, the House Problem-Solvers Caucus, which unites 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans, endorsed the effort to create the commission. Katko, a member of that caucus, voted to impeach President Donald Trump in January. Speaking on the House floor before today’s vote, he said, “I urge all of you in this body, all of you on both sides, not just my side or not just your side, all of us, to set aside politics, just this once. Just this once. I beg you, and pass this bill.”

In a written statement following the vote, Katko said,

“The security breach that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was completely unacceptable. It directly threatened the safety of our staffs, U.S. Capitol Police, and fellow Members of Congress. It was a major breakdown in information sharing and preparedness, much like the shortfalls that existed prior to 9/11, and can never happen again. An independent, bipartisan commission will protect against politicization and enable a review that focuses solely on the facts and circumstances surrounding the security breach at the Capitol as well as other instances of relevant violence.

“I appreciate each lawmaker’s consideration of the bill and respect the diversity of thought. Again, I would like to thank Chairman Thompson for his good-faith collaboration and strong commitment to working together on this effort. The Homeland Security Committee remains a committee focused on securing the nation while ignoring the political noise, which is exactly how it should be. Securing our homeland is far too important for any other approach.”

Miller-Meeks and Feenstra have not referenced this vote in any news release or on their social media feeds. I will update this post as needed. LATE UPDATE: Miller-Meeks never released a written statement about this vote but told a hostile questioner at a Republican event on June 9,

“I think it’s important to establish the timeline,” Miller-Meeks said. “And the timeline is something that could help President Trump. I did not vote to impeach President Trump, because constitutionally I felt that he had protected free speech under the Constitution. It did not rise to the level of inciting violence.”

Miller-Meeks added that “there was a lot of compromise on the Democrats’ side” in the bill and that she had wanted to support Capitol police officers, Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register.

“I visited with them and the National Guard that night,” Miller-Meeks said. “And some of them were beaten. Some of them were dragged across the pavement and sidewalks. Some of them were pepper sprayed. Something happened, and it was traumatic to those individuals, and they were being blamed for a security breach. And I did not feel that that was appropriate without some investigation.”

Hinson explained her no vote in a written statement.

“I believe we need to get to the bottom of the attack on the Capitol on January 6th through a nonpartisan investigation, but I will not vote in favor of launching this commission while the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI have ongoing investigations. The commission should have been instructed not to interfere with ongoing law enforcement investigations to ensure that those responsible can be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” 

The compressed timetable was planned so that the commission’s work would not spill over into an election year. Delaying its start until law enforcement investigations are complete would mean the commissioners would be working well into 2022. UPDATE: Hinson co-sponsored a January 6 commission bill earlier this year that was similar to the one she just voted against.

Senate Republicans are expected to filibuster this bill. Speaking to reporters on May 19, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst complained that the proposed bipartisan commission would have a staff and pay disparity, adding, “Here we are five months later. What is the point? It’s turning into a political exercise.”

IOWANS BACK ASIAN HATE CRIMES BILL, SPLIT ON RESOLUTION

All four Iowans were part of the 364 to 62 majority who approved the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on May 18. Nicholas Wu reported for Politico that this “modest measure” would “create a Justice Department position focusing on anti-Asian hate crimes and provide resources to beef up state and local reporting.”

Lawmakers and advocates hailed the passage of the legislation as a first step towards curbing the pandemic-era rise in hate crimes. Other than a nonbinding resolution passed by the House last year condemning anti-Asian sentiment, it is Congress’ first substantive piece of legislation addressing the issue.

The House passed a new nonbinding resolution on May 19 by 245 votes to 180. Miller-Meeks was among 30 Republicans who supported the resolution “Condemning the horrific shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 16, 2021, and reaffirming the House of Representative’s commitment to combating hate, bigotry, and violence against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.” Hinson and Feenstra voted no, with the rest of their caucus. None of Iowa’s Republicans have commented publicly on this vote.

The resolution noted, among other things, that “anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150 percent” in major U.S. cities last year, and that “according to a recent report by Stop AAPI Hate, there were nearly 3,800 reported cases of anti-Asian discrimination related to COVID–19 between March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021.”

Republicans may have objected to the following passage, which alludes to Trump without naming him: “Whereas the use of anti-Asian terminology and rhetoric related to COVID–19, such as the ‘Chinese virus, ‘Wuhan virus’, and ‘kung flu’, has perpetuated anti-Asian stigma that has resulted in Asian Americans being harassed, assaulted, and scapegoated for the COVID–19 pandemic.” The resolution also favorably referenced a March meeting between President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Asian-American leaders in Georgia.

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