Amid lingering public suspicion, the Republican-led Congress is moving fitfully toward new hearings on the fatal federal raid on an armed Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
Leaders in both the Senate and House have promised hearings before the summer ends. However, efforts to hold the first Senate hearing next week collapsed as Republican senators accused each other of “political opportunism.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with The Washington Times, Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said two House subcommittees will hold joint hearings before August.
“Any time 85 Americans die in a setting like that, there is some legitimate obligation to investigate and find out what happened.”
On Capitol Hill and across the country, there are still questions about the initial raid on Feb. 28, 1993, in which agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attacked the Branch Davidian compound and sparked a fight that killed four agents and several followers of cult leader David Koresh.
There are still more questions about why - after a 51-day siege - the FBI decided to use tanks and tear gas to storm the compound. The final assault ended with the death of 80 cult members, including many children.
In the aftermath of Oklahoma City, calls for congressional hearings on anti-government militias and domestic terrorism have been accompanied by renewed interest in investigating the Branch Davidian incident.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, urging hearings on “the Waco incident.”
But by a 74-23 vote Thursday, the full Senate defeated a resolution by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., calling for a hearing by Aug. 4. The resolution was the result of a jurisdictional dispute between Specter, the chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee, and Hatch, chairman of the full committee.
Specter had tentatively scheduled a subcommittee hearing for Thursday on the FBI raids near Waco and on Randy Weaver’s cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Hatch said the full committee should hold the hearing, but that this is not the time.
“I believe your hurried plan to conduct hearings on these matters so soon after the tragic events in Oklahoma City will only further erode public confidence in government by reinforcing the stereotype that members of Congress are merely short-sighted political opportunists,” Hatch wrote to Specter.