Senate

Senators struggle to save Jan. 6 commission

Senators are struggling to salvage a bill that would create a commission to probe the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Moderates in both caucuses are trying to find a path forward, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) drafting potential changes to the bill and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) pleading with Republicans to work with them to find a deal.

But those efforts are producing little movement among GOP senators, underscoring the uphill and unlikely climb supporters of a commission face to getting the 10 Republican votes they would need to advance the bill in the Senate.

“I don’t think I’ll support the commission. Let the Congress and the Senate issue their reports. This thing’s just got politics written all over it, unfortunately. So, we’ll see what happens,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). 

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) added that he was similarly unmoved by the changes being shopped around by Collins, saying that he thought the commission sounded like a “political exercise.”

“I still feel pretty confident that even the timeline… it’s unrealistic,” Tillis said.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who was initially open to a commission, said the proposed changes weren’t enough to get his support, echoing Tillis’s concerns about the timeline.

The bill includes an end-of-year cutoff date, though Republicans don’t believe it can be met. 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) noted that a joint investigation by the Senate Rules Committee and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was already underway and could wrap up faster. Senators say they expect the joint report to be released early next month. 

“I don’t think we need to outsource it to a commission, particularly when it’s already being used as a political football by Speaker Pelosi,” Cornyn said.

Collins declined to describe her floated amendments on Tuesday except to say that they dealt with GOP concerns that Republican-appointed members of the commission would also have a hand in staffing. Republicans have raised concerns that the legislation as drafted would allow Democrats to hire all the staff even though the panel’s membership would be evenly divided.

The rejection of the bill, even if it’s changed to address GOP concerns, is the latest blow for an idea that once garnered broad support in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, where a mob of former President Trump’s supporters breached the building in an attempt to block Congress from certifying President Biden’s electoral win.

The bill passed the House last week with 35 GOP votes. But it’s essentially unraveled in the Senate, with most of the GOP caucus following the lead of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who came out against it last week.

Manchin and Sinema, the two most moderate members of the Senate Democratic caucus who are also the biggest Democratic opponents of nixing the filibuster, released a joint statement on Tuesday making it clear that they were open to changes from Republicans to the House-passed bill.

“A bipartisan commission to investigate the events of that day has passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan vote and is a critical step to ensuring our nation never has to endure an attack at the hands of our countrymen again. We implore our Senate Republican colleagues to work with us to find a path forward on a commission to examine the events of January 6th,” they said.

The Associated Press, citing sources, reported that Manchin and Collins were also trading potential language for changes. A spokesperson for Manchin didn’t respond to questions about the talks. 

But Democrats don’t appear to have a clear path to the votes needed to defeat a filibuster.

McConnell lambasted the bill on Tuesday, arguing it would be used against Republicans heading into 2022.

“I think, at the heart of this recommendation by the Democrats is that they would like to continue to debate things that occurred in the past. They’d like to continue to litigate the former president into the future. We think the American people, going forward and in the fall of ’22, ought to focus on what this administration is doing to the country and what the clear choices that we have made to oppose most of these initiatives,” he told reporters.

“So I think this is a purely political exercise that adds nothing to the sum total of information,” he added.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), his No. 2, warned that the bill was unlikely to pass in its current form and stopped short of predicting that the changes being worked on by Collins would be enough to break off 10 GOP votes.

“He’s articulating a view that I think is shared by a big number of our members … based on at least the current version of the bill,” Thune said, while noting that some GOP senators were “withholding judgement” until they see potential changes.

He added that the proposed Collins changes were “moving in the right direction” but that it was “hard to say” if that got the bill 10 GOP votes.

So far, Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) are the only two GOP senators who have said they will vote for the bill. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has signaled he’s interested and Collins has suggested she could support a commission if changes are incorporated into the legislation. But that still leaves Democrats several votes short.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that he’ll bring up the legislation “very soon.” That could be as soon as this week, though Schumer hasn’t yet teed up the bill as the chamber continues to debate legislation aimed at combating China’s competitiveness. 

Schumer hasn’t specifically signed onto any amendments, but said Democrats were willing to look at potential changes.

“But it can’t just undo the commission,” Schumer added. “One of the proposals I heard, have a separate Republican staff. You can’t have a commission with two warring staff. I’ve never … seen that happen.” 

Tags Bill Cassidy Charles Schumer Donald Trump Jan. 6 commission Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Cornyn John Thune Kyrsten Sinema Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mike Rounds Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Susan Collins Thom Tillis

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