When Representative Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California, hears Republican critics argue that the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol does not serve a legitimate purpose, he bristles.
He thinks of the at least 140 cops who were injured in the assault, and the officers who died in its aftermath.
“It’s an insult to the lives of the Capitol Police officers if we don’t pursue what happened and take meaningful and concrete steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” said Mr. Aguilar, 42. “We started off with a public hearing that was powerful, with police officers from the D.C. Metro to Capitol Police forces, and we’ve really kept our eye on that ball: How do we honor the lives of those folks who are hurt, who were injured?”
Drafted for the committee by Speaker Nancy Pelosi — he did not apply for the post — Mr. Aguilar is a former mayor of Redlands, Calif., who has risen to become vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.
In that role, he helps lead Democrats’ messaging efforts, including how they talk most effectively about the Capitol attack.
He was in the House chamber when rioters were banging on the door, hunting for Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other prominent officials. He wrote in a journal next to him at 2:34 p.m. that day that he was scared.
“That was when we really needed to get evacuated,” he told a California radio station.
The youngest member of the committee, Mr. Aguilar is known for his affable demeanor and his ability to bring together the various flanks of the party and cut deals with Republicans.
Shortly after he joined Congress, Mr. Aguilar’s district was the site of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, and he gained valuable knowledge of law enforcement operations.
He now spends his long commutes back to California reviewing transcripts of the interviews of more than 1,000 witnesses who have appeared before the committee. He plans to take the lead in the presentation of evidence and questioning of witnesses during some of the later hearings in the series.
The panel is expected to hold six public hearings this month, including one that focuses on the fact that Mr. Trump did nothing to stop the violence for more than three hours while the assault was underway.
“We’ve been clear that what we’re focused on is, why didn’t the former president do more when we were under attack at the Capitol?” Mr. Aguilar said. “What was he doing? Why didn’t anyone send additional resources and help, and what was his role in that?”