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As Biden seeks mask mandate, insurrection inquiry intrudes

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — In the cause of national public health safety, President Joe Biden should abandon confusing half measures by telling Congress and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mandate masking and vaccination for all Americans. It has become too dangerous to do anything else, for the good of all.

The CDC has finally said the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus now justifies wearing a mask indoors, including in schools, in areas of high spread, even for those who have been vaccinated.

The president has moved closer to that judgment by announcing all federal employees will be required to wear masks indoors in areas of high infection or be subject to repeated testing to protect others. This has riled many Republicans who cling to the notion that such mandates violate their cherished freedom of choice.

But Biden’s call has been overshadowed by the dramatic testimony of four Capitol police officers subject to physical and verbal abuse in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They have driven home the reality that as the huge public health pandemic jeopardizes whole nation, its democracy is being imperiled by dangerous forces of internal rebellion.

The quartet of tough Capitol cops was uncharacteristically reduced to laments, and even in one case to tears, at the physical assault on American democracy on that disgraceful day — and more so at the willingness of leading Republican lawmakers to defend and distort the events of that infamous day as a normal tourists’ visit.

One of the testifying DC officers, Michael Fanone, who fainted and suffered a heart attack during the melee, said: “So many of the people I put my life at risk to defend are downplaying or outright denying what happened. I felt like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room. But too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad.”

He pounded on the witness table and said, “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”

Former president Donald Trump added insult to injury suggesting that the January 6 attack was actually a public lovefest by his adoring fans, dismissing allegations that by calling upon protesters to march on the Capitol on that day he had incited the riot. Trump had even promised to join them, but then retreated to the safety of the White House and watched the ensuing violence on television.

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was ousted from the House GOP leadership for openly criticizing Trump and then was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to her select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, asked in opening the hearing: “Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution? I pray that that is not the case.”

The four-hour hearing aired more videos of the Capitol riot not previously viewed by the public in the committee’s stated purpose of establishing the origins of the onslaught and culpability of its perpetrators. The Republicans sought to cast the inquiry as a partisan hit-job on Trump and even suggested that Pelosi was the one at fault, having supposedly failed to assure adequate security at the site.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had tried to monkeywrench the select committee by adding two Republicans who had assisted Trump’s effort to overturn the election, but Pelosi rejected them. That led McCarthy to pull out support of the Republican leadership and threaten to appoint his own inquiry. He called the two Republicans remaining on her group “Pelosi Republicans.”

The vivid the testimony of the Capitol cops appeared weigh in Pelosi’s favor, however, in what has been reduced to an unfortunate partisan squabble over the defense of American democracy. It comes at a time of deep and disturbing political division still nurtured by the continued ambition and narcissism of Donald Trump.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.

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