WASHINGTON - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rejected two Republicans tapped by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to sit on a committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, a decision the Republican denounced as "an egregious abuse of power."
McCarthy said the GOP won't participate in the investigation if Democrats won't accept the members he appointed.
Pelosi cited the "integrity" of the probe in refusing to accept the appointments of Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, picked by McCarthy to be the top Republican on the panel, or Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. The two men are outspoken allies of former President Donald Trump, whose supporters laid siege to the Capitol that day and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden's win. Both of them voted to overturn the election results in the hours after the siege.
Democrats have said the investigation will go on whether the Republicans participate or not, as Pelosi has already appointed eight of the 13 members — including Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Trump critic — and that gives them a bipartisan quorum to proceed, according to committee rules.
FILE - U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol July 01, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Pelosi said she had spoken with McCarthy and told him that she would reject the two names.
"With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these members, I must reject the recommendations of Representatives Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee," Pelosi said in a statement.
Pelosi has the authority to approve or reject members, per committee rules, though she acknowledged her move was unusual. She said "the unprecedented nature of January 6th demands this unprecedented decision."
The move is emblematic of the raw political tensions in Congress that have only escalated since the insurrection and raises the possibility that the investigation — the only comprehensive probe currently being conducted of the attack — will be done almost entirely by Democrats. The House voted in may to create an independent investigation that would have been evenly split between the parties, but Senate Republicans blocked that approach in a vote last month.
FILE - U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol July 1, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
McCarthy said Pelosi's move will damage the institution of Congress.
"Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts," McCarthy said.
It is unclear how McCarthy would lead a separate investigation, as the minority does not have the power to set up committees. He said the panel has lost "all legitimacy" because Pelosi wouldn’t allow the Republicans to name their own members.
Most in the GOP have remained loyal to Trump despite the violent insurrection of his supporters that sent many lawmakers running for their lives. McCarthy wouldn’t say for weeks whether Republicans would even participate in the probe, but he sent the five names to Pelosi on Monday.
Pelosi accepted McCarthy’s three other picks — Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong and Texas Rep. Troy Nehls. But McCarthy said that all five or none would participate.
Like Jordan and Banks, Nehls voted to overturn Biden’s victory. Armstrong and Davis voted to certify the election.
Banks recently traveled with Trump to the U.S.-Mexico border and visited him at his New Jersey golf course. In a statement after McCarthy tapped him for the panel, he sharply criticized the Democrats who had set it up.
"Make no mistake, Nancy Pelosi created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda," Banks said.
Democrats whom Pelosi appointed to the committee earlier this month were angry over that statement, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the private deliberations and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss them. They were also concerned over Banks' two recent visits with Trump, the person said.
Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, was one of Trump’s most vocal defenders during his two impeachments and last month likened the new investigation to "impeachment three." Trump was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate both times.
The back-and-forth came after all but two Republicans opposed the creation of the select committee in a House vote last month, with most in the GOP arguing that the majority-Democratic panel would conduct a partisan probe. Only Cheney and another frequent Trump critic, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted in favor of the panel.
Cheney told reporters she believes that the rhetoric from McCarthy, Jordan and Banks is "disgraceful" and she agrees with Pelosi’s decision to reject the two Republicans.
"At every opportunity, the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened — to block this investigation," Cheney said of McCarthy.
The panel will hold its first hearing next week, with at least four rank-and-file police officers who battled rioters that day testifying about their experiences. Dozens of police officers were injured as the violent mob pushed past them and broke into the Capitol building.
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chair of the panel, said the committee would carry out its duties.
"It has been more than 6 months since the attack, we owe it to our democracy to stay the course and not be distracted by side-shows," Thompson said in a statement. "That is exactly what we will be doing next Tuesday, when the bipartisan committee members take testimony from frontline heroes who put their lives on the line to protect our democracy."
Seven people died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot by police as she tried to break into the House chamber and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies.
Two police officers died by suicide in the days that followed, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.