(CNN)Top Republicans in the House have repeatedly clashed with US Capitol security officials during closed-door meetings in recent weeks, as GOP lawmakers have privately aired their frustrations about the lack of clarity surrounding security measures and what they feel has been undue political influence from Democrats over the decision-making process, according to several sources familiar with the interactions.
On at least two occasions, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has sharply criticized both the acting House sergeant of arms as well as retired Lt. Gen. Russell Honoré, who led a task force appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to address the Capitol security failures, the sources told CNN.
In a meeting earlier this month to discuss the task force’s recommendations, McCarthy blasted Honoré in front of his team, rebuking them for meeting via Zoom when Pelosi had an in-person meeting and accusing the task force of working to deliver on Pelosi’s wishes. McCarthy also read aloud some of Honoré’s past tweets, which were critical of Republicans. Honoré said he wrote the tweets before he knew he would get the key security assignment, according to sources familiar with the matter.
In an earlier meeting late last month, McCarthy criticized the acting sergeant at arms, Timothy Blodgett, for waiting until weeks after his appointment to speak to him for the first time, according to multiple sources who witnessed the exchange.
“He called him out in front of everyone,” said one House Republican, who asked not to be named to discuss the private exchange between McCarthy and Blodgett.
The clashes underline a breakdown in bipartisan cooperation and what sources describe as a poisonous atmosphere in the House over how to secure the Capitol and respond to the failures of the January 6 insurrection. Talks about forming an independent 9/11-style commission to investigate the riot have stalled, and Democratic sources tell CNN that they are preparing for the issue to drag out — potentially for months — until they get bipartisan support, which will be needed in order for legislation to create the investigatory body to be cleared by the Senate and become law.
Things have gotten so bad, even passing a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police became mired in partisan fighting.
Republicans are deeply skeptical over Pelosi’s plans to push ahead with a sweeping probe and are wary it will focus heavily on former President Donald Trump and his role in inciting the attack. Instead, they have insisted the investigation look into an array of incidents beyond the January 6 riot, including the violence that occurred during protests of police brutality last year, a request Democrats view as a smokescreen designed to avoid scrutiny of the actions of Trump and several of GOP colleagues who egged on the pro-Trump crowd on the day of the deadly attack.
Democrats say their House GOP colleagues have no grounds to complain after a majority of them voted to overturn the electoral results of two states — even after the rioters stormed the Capitol to stop congressional certification of Joe Biden’s win, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
After an initial flurry of hearings on the attack, the next steps for the congressional investigations into the January 6 failures appear to be murkier. Multiple House committees are conducting a joint probe into the attack, which remains ongoing and appears wide in scope. A congressional aide said more briefings on the attack and domestic terrorism are in the works and the committees continue to receive documents.
The Senate Homeland Security committee investigation appears to be the furthest along in either chamber, as aides say the panel intends to move forward with a months-long look focused on the delayed National Guard response and intelligence sharing breakdowns leading up to the insurrection.
‘I wouldn’t be interested’
Pelosi this week has reiterated her desire for an outside commission to examine the January 6 attack, saying that the commission should “get to the truth of how the January 6 assault happened” and that it should be bipartisan.
“It is essential that we proceed in a bipartisan way in order to have a respected outcome,” Pelosi wrote.
When Pelosi initially unveiled her plans for a commission last month, Democrats were optimistic it would quickly get adopted. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he hoped the House would vote on the commission this month, a scenario that seems all but impossible now with discussions at a standstill.
But there are still lingering disputes over the partisan makeup of the commission and what it should investigate — including the role Trump played — that threaten to stymie any kind of bipartisan agreement.
On Tuesday, McCarthy told reporters that House leaders are stalled on negotiations over how to formulate the independent commission.
“Based on what she offered and what she’s said before, I wouldn’t be interested” McCarthy said.
Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, said Pelosi’s proposal suggested she was “not serious about it.”
“And if she was, she would be negotiating whether or not to have a partisan bent on it, or one that even the 9/11 Commission chair and vice chair said, this commission should be a very bipartisan one like that,’ Davis told CNN. “You can’t call what she proposed a 9/11-style commission. It’s not even close.”
But Democrats say it’s Republicans who are playing games over the matter to avoid a full accounting of the role that Trump — and some of their members — played in spreading lies about the election results.
Several hurdles with commission
The issues with creating the commission are twofold: the partisan makeup of the commission membership and what it should investigate.
Pelosi’s draft proposal would include seven Democratic appointees to four GOP members, with House and Senate leaders each selecting two members and the White House appointing two and the chair. McCarthy reiterated Tuesday that he would not settle for anything less than an even split.
But the bigger hang-up is the scope of what the commission would investigate and whether it should examine Trump’s role leading up to the attack, as well as the rise in domestic extremism among the groups that took part in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6.
Pelosi told CNN Wednesday that the dispute over the commission’s membership was “incidental,” suggesting she’s open to a more equitable balance between the two parties.
“The problem is the scope — are we going to seek the truth?” she said.
Republicans have countered by arguing that the commission should also investigate the violence and rioting that occurred last year surrounding protests of police brutality.
At his press conference Thursday, McCarthy again criticized Honoré and said that the commission must have equal membership and not begin with any established findings.
“If you start with the premise that you only want it one-sided, you understand what the outcome is going to be,” McCarthy said.
Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Pelosi’s proposed commission draft, accusing her of setting up a “cherry-picked” investigation that would investigate domestic extremism beyond January 6 but not violence surrounding protests of police brutality.
“We could do something narrow that looks at the Capitol or we could potentially do something broader to analyze the full scope of political violence here in our country,” McConnell said. “We cannot land at some artificial politicized halfway point.”
McConnell’s opposition is significant, because Senate Republicans could have veto power over legislation to create the commission if they filibustered it.
Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, who co-introduced legislation on what a commission to investigate January 6 would look like, told CNN on Wednesday that she has spoken with Pelosi about the need for the commission to be bipartisan.
“I have been pushing for, as far as those talks, for it to be bipartisan” Sherrill said. “Because I think it’s critically important if we’re doing this, that the American people have faith in the results from it and I think the only way for this to be seen as a trustworthy enterprise by much of the population is if it is a fully bipartisan commission.”
Still, a lengthy delay before creating a commission to examine January 6 would not be out of precedent with the 9/11 Commission. While Democrats have urged the quick creation of an independent commission to work alongside the various ongoing congressional investigations, the 9/11 Commission was not enacted until more than a year after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
There was resistance inside the George W. Bush White House and in Congress to create the commission, which was ultimately signed into law in November 2002 amid a push from families of the victims for an independent, full accounting of the terrorist attacks.
Bipartisan anger toward extended Capitol security
There is one area where bipartisan agreement has emerged: The security situation at the Capitol needs to change.
Lawmakers in both parties have expressed frustration over the continued security situation at the Capitol, issuing bipartisan statements criticizing an extension of the National Guard deployment and the razor-wire fencing enclosing the Capitol complex when there wasn’t a clear threat to still to the Capitol.
Lawmakers say the lack of information from Capitol Police about the rationale behind its decision to keep up fencing and extend the Guard deployment has added to the frustration surrounding the response to the January 6 attacks.
Last week, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, met with Honoré, Capitol Police and security officials. A committee aide said at the meeting, “No one could or would provide clear intelligence necessitating the extension of the National Guard.”
Later that week, Rogers and House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, issued a joint statement calling for the drawdown of National Guard troops, the first bipartisan call for change to the planned extension.
This week, the acting House Sergeant at Arms announced a change, telling lawmakers some fencing would begin coming down and the National Guard presence would be reduced in the coming weeks.
CNN’s Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.