Jun 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats debate political upshot of Jan. 6 hearings

Capitol on Jan. 6

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

As the Jan. 6 committee gears up for its blockbuster public hearings, vulnerable House Democrats tell Axios the topic hasn't broken through as a major issue in their districts — but that the hearings have the potential to change that.

Why it matters: The committee has been building its case for the better part of a year that Republicans were at best complicit and at worst instigators in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

  • But the climax of that effort comes 17 months after the attack — and at a moment of serious political peril for Democrats, who are struggling to flip the script against the backdrop of an unpopular president and soaring inflation.

By the numbers: Google trends data shows midterm voters have "very low interest" in Jan. 6 compared to topics like jobs, taxes and gun policy, according to Axios' interactive midterm search interest tool.

  • Polls consistently show that the public is, at best, divided on the issue: A YouGov/UMass poll last month found that 42% of Americans support efforts to hold those who took part in the riot accountable, down 10 points from a year ago.

Driving the news: Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) told Axios that voters who view Jan. 6 as a top issue are already more likely to be voting for Democrats, and that Fox News' refusal to air the hearings live will limit their reach to persuadable voters.

  • "I think they're incredibly important," Wild said of the hearings, "but I wouldn't call them pivotal to the election."

"No," one Democrat in a swing district told Axios bluntly when asked if Jan. 6 ever comes up on the campaign trail.

  • But, they added, that could change if the hearings have "a lot of powerful information" or a "holy sh*t" moment.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said issues like immigration and oil and gas have dominated the discourse in his South Texas border district, but that the hearings might help to "refresh people's minds" about what happened on Jan. 6.

  • "I hope that the hearings and the report get to new people who maybe aren't thinking about Jan. 6," Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said, though she cautioned that it's hard to say for sure if they will "absolutely change the politics on the ground in Michigan."
  • Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) also underscored the hearings' importance but said the economy is the "No. 1 issue to my voters ... and that's what I'm focused on."

Between the lines: The approach of the House Democratic campaign apparatus has been to deploy Jan. 6 on the campaign trail in a targeted way, while also hammering on broader issues of democracy and extremism.

The other side: Even as Jan. 6 threatens to dominate headlines through the months ahead, Republicans plan to largely do what they've been doing: ignore the issue.

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told members during a closed-door GOP conference meeting Wednesday morning that voters don't care about Jan. 6, telling them to stick to issues like gas prices and inflation.
  • A Republican strategist working on House races told Axios, “Campaigns are going to stay focused on the economy, which is our No. 1 issue, and leave partisan antics to Democrats and their losing campaigns."

The bottom line: Politics aside, Democrats are united in their position that these hearings are essential for the health of American democracy.

  • "I don't think it's that complicated," DCCC Chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) told Axios. "People understand back home that this was wrong."
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