Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to block two Republican House members from the house select committee formed to investigate on January 6th. The Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy has characterized her actions as "unprecedented" and an "egregious abuse of power":

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken the unprecedented step of denying the minority party’s picks for the Select Committee on January 6. This represents an egregious abuse of power and will irreparably damage this institution. Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees have made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth.

Source: Republican leader McCarthy's Statement about Pelosi’s Abuse of Power on January 6th Select Committee dated July 21, 2021

Is there, in fact, any historical precedent for Pelosi's action?

Late Addition

Some answers and comments have pointed out Nancy Pelosi's justification of her action, saying: “The unprecedented nature of January 6th [2021] demands this unprecedented decision.”

I take the point of this. However, from a historical perspective, her justification seems factually incorrect. Other comments suggested other cases of violence at the Capitol. But I think the following is most relevant counterexample:

On June 21, 1783, eighty soldiers from Lexington, MA were unpaid and weary; they marched on the Congress sitting in Philadelphia. The angry mob was joined 300 others from the Philadelphia barracks. Together, they physically threatened and verbally abused the members and caused them to flee the city. See Congress Flees to Princeton 1783. See also J. Fiske, The Critical Period of American History, 1783–1789 112–113 (1888); W. Tindall, The Origin and Government of the District of Columbia 31–36 (1903).

1783 was probably the most historically significant example of threats of violence against congress precisely because it occurred before the modern Constitution was adopted. Unlike 1812, it was an armed American militia who sought to protest their treatment by the government. Unlike 2021, the incident was resolved without the use of deadly force.

The government eventually paid the militias, and U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 was adopted after the incident to grant the government the authority to create the District of Columbia (now called Washington DC); that was the clearest impact of the incident having been investigated. It is also worth noting how the incident was resolved:

Mr. Reed moved that the General should endeavor to withdraw the troops by assuring them of the disposition of Congress to do them justice. … In the meantime, the soldiers remained in their position, without offering any violence, individuals only occasionally uttering offensive words and wantonly pointed their Muskets to the Windows of the Hall of Congress. No danger from premeditated violence was apprehended, but it was observed that spirituous drink from the tippling houses adjoining began to be liberally served out to the Soldiers, & might lead to hasty excesses.

Source: the Journal of the Third Continental Congress

Thus the founding fathers resolved it without all the deaths and partisan fingerpointing seen today.

  • 51
    For a precedent, should we consider the last time The Capitol was attacked? Was there a congressional investigation after the Burning of Washington? And if so, how many British representatives were on the committee? Whatever Pelosi is doing, McCarthy is clearly playing politics. But we don't have to. Perhaps you can explain what kind of precedent you're looking for. Any select or special committee that was not bipartisan?
    – Juhasz
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:02
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    By a precedent, I would mean a prior example of the speaker of the house from one party prohibiting the committee participation of the opposing party leader's picks, just as McCarthy wrote. I'd even broaden it to similar actions in the legislature of constitutional republics. Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:16
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    Many comments deleted. Please don't use comments to debate the question matter. If you would like to answer, please post a real answer. If you would like to discuss, please use the chat function. Please try to limit these comments to suggesting improvements to the question.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:40
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    For what it's worth, not only her opponents but also Pelosi herself said the decision was unprecedented: "'The unprecedented nature of Jan. 6 demands this unprecedented decision,' she added."
    – Carmeister
    Commented Jul 22, 2021 at 12:49
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    @Juhasz at least one politician born in Britain was active in government during the War of 1812. Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 3:28

2 Answers 2


According to House practices, a select committee is a committee whose members are appointed (selected) by the Speaker. Conventionally the Speaker will receive recommendations from the minority leader and appoint those members, on the presumption that the minority leader knows best which members of their caucus are useful and appropriate for the subject the committee is investigating. I don't know of a historical case where a Speaker has refused the minority leader's recommendation — which doesn't mean there isn't one; merely that I haven't heard of such, so it's an uncommon event — but it is within the Speaker's purview to do so.

So yes, unprecedented is probably factually correct.

It's worth noting that Republicans actively blocked a joint committee on the 1/6 insurrection, where (under House practices) the minority leader would have had firm grounds to appoint members of their choosing. This is how we ended up at a select committee in the first place. The two members Pelosi rejected — Banks and Jordan — are hardline supporters of ex-president Trump and were vocal, uncompromising opponents of the failed joint committee. As such, Pelosi has more than sufficient reason to expect they will not participate on the committee in good faith. McCarthy was surely aware of this, and undoubtably offered these two with the intention of placing Pelosi in a compromised political position. Pelosi's actions were objectively correct from the perspective of creating a functional committee, despite the inevitable (and intended) political grandstanding that will result.

  • This answer contradicts itself: "which doesn't mean there isn't one" vs "So yes, unprecedented is probably factually correct.". It's sad that this is so highly voted and the accepted answer... when it fails to address the question at hand. It would be better as a comment - or for sources to be added that examine previous precedent (or lack thereof).
    – NPSF3000
    Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 21:07
  • @Burt_Harris: If you have to go all the way back to before the founding of the republic to find a precedent, then it's still pretty unprecedented by American standards. The modern US did not technically exist in 1783, as the Constitution was only ratified in 1789.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 5:54
  • @Kevin While that incident may be the closest analogue, you certainly don't have to go to back before the founding of the Republic to find attacks at the Capitol, most of which have been politically motivated. Aside from the British sacking D.C. in 1814, there have been lots of violent attacks at the Capitol over the years. It was bombed at least 3 times in the 20th century alone, most recently in the 80s. There have also been some shootings there and even violent attacks by members of Congress on other members.
    – reirab
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 18:14
  • I've added content at the end of the question in response to the above comments. Please put comments about my question in the question rather than this answer. Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 1:09

Minority Leader McCarthy may have intended calling this action "unprecedented" as an attack, but Pelosi acknowledged that herself in her official statement:

“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.

“The unprecedented nature of January 6th demands this unprecedented decision.”

I'm not going to look back at the membership of every House Select Committee, but if both Speaker Pelosi and House Minority leader McCarthy both call it "unprecedented", I think it's relatively safe to say that it is, at least in recent history. As she mentioned, though, an attack on Congress in order to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power is an unprecedented occurrence in the US (at least since the ratification of the Constitution), as is the fact that some members of Congress appear to support the attackers and/or deny its existence.

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    Hmm, demonstrations that overrun sitting legislatures don't seem to be unprecedented. Greece, Hong Kong, and Wisconsin in the last decade or so. Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:38
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    @Burt_Harris Presumably they both mean "unprecedented in the US". If you expand to all republics in all of history, I doubt there's much that's actually unprecedented
    – divibisan
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:44
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    I think Pelosi and McCarthy are referring to different aspects here. Pelosi seems to be basing her actions on calling the protest unprecedented, but even within the US, it's happened to state legislatures recently. E.g. nypost.com/2020/04/30/… But that's not my question, I'm asking about the political decision to exclude Jordan and Banks. Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:51
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    @Burt_Harris I think this answer refers to the second unprecedented in the quote, i.e. the 'unprecedented decision' to prevent these members from joining the committee.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 22:53
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    @Burt_Harris JJJ is correct: I'm referring to the second "unprecedented". Pelosi calls the attack unprecedented, but she also clearly calls her own decision unprecedented.
    – divibisan
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 23:28

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