Senate GOP blocks legislation on Jan. 6 commission

Senate Republicans on Friday blocked legislation to form a commission to probe the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Senators voted 54-35 on the House-passed bill, falling short of the 10 GOP votes needed to get it over an initial hurdle and marking the first successful filibuster by Republicans in the 117th Congress. 

GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Bill Cassidy (La.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) broke ranks and voted to advance the legislation.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) missed the vote because of a family commitment but a spokesperson said he would have supported advancing it “with the expectation that the Senate would consider, and Sen. Toomey would have supported” GOP amendments. 

Senate Republicans were widely expected to reject the legislation after days of publicly and privately warning that they believed the commission would damage them heading into the 2022 midterm election, keeping former President Trump and the attack — where a mob of his supporters breached the building — at the forefront.

“I do not believe the extraneous ‘commission’ that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing. Frankly, I do not believe it is even designed to,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor.

“That’s why the Speaker’s first draft began with a laughably rigged and partisan starting point, and why the current language would still lock in significant unfairness under the hood,” he added on Thursday.

McConnell did not speak ahead of Friday’s vote. 

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) predicted there could be a bipartisan commission after the “politically charged election cycle,” but not now. 

The House’s bill would create a 10-member commission with the ability to appoint members evenly split between the two parties in a model based on the panel created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Democrats argued that the investigation was needed to get to the bottom of the attack, as a growing number of Republicans have downplayed its severity or given credence to Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen.

“If our Republican friends vote against this, what are you afraid of? The truth? Are you afraid Donald Trump’s big lie will be dispelled? Are you afraid that all of the misinformation that has poured out will be rebutted by a bipartisan, down the middle commission?” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote.

But Democrats faced almost impossible odds to getting the bill through the Senate as Republican opposition hardened.

McConnell, who was initially on the fence, later came out in opposition, publicly and privately urging his GOP colleagues to oppose the bill and warning that he thought Democrats were trying to damage Republicans in the midterms.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also made the case against the bill to Senate Republicans.

Members of the Senate GOP are eager to move past the Jan. 6 attack and are trying to keep the focus on the Biden administration heading into 2022. They largely avoided speaking from the Senate floor about the commission ahead of Friday’s vote, while agreeing to let it get sped up in exchange for delaying a final vote on China-related legislation until after the Memorial Day recess. 

McConnell on numerous occasions has sidestepped mentioning Trump directly, and instead has referred to him only as the former president. 

“We want to look ahead,” Rounds said. 

But Republicans faced voices of dissent within their own ranks.

“I think the attack on the building was a very severe attack on democracy and is having shockwaves around the world and will change the trajectory in the world with regards to authoritarianism versus democracy,” Romney said. 

Collins also scrambled behind the scenes to try to shore up GOP votes. 

“I want to see a commission … There are a lot of unanswered questions and I’m working very hard to secure Republican votes for a commission,” Collins told reporters.

In addition to the politics, Republicans argued the commission would be duplicative to a joint investigation overseen by the Senate Rules Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

That report is expected to come out early next month. But, unlike a commission, the report would focus narrowly on Capitol security and intelligence.

Collins had also circulated an amendment to address two of the biggest GOP concerns: staffing and the timeline. 

Collins, based on text obtained by The Hill, wanted to change the language so that the chair and vice chair of the commission would jointly appoint staff, rather than the chair “in consultation with” the vice chair. 

In the event that the two could not agree on staff, Collins wanted to include language that would let both the chair and vice chair of the commission hire their own staff. 

The bill already included a requirement that the commission submit its final report no later than the end of the year. 

Collins also proposed changing when the commission would formally disband. The House bill gave the commission 60 days after it submits its final report, while Collins proposed changing that to 30 days. 

The House bill also allowed the commission to use that 60-day period for concluding its activities including testifying before Congress. Collins proposed changing that time period to 30 days. 

Still, the changes failed to sway enough GOP senators.

The roadblock is pouring fuel onto calls for Democrats to nix the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation. 

Democrats would need total unity within their caucus in order to go nuclear — something they don’t currently have. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) railed against Republicans for blocking the bill.

“There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against the commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for,” Manchin said.

But he’s also warning that he won’t vote to get rid of the filibuster, pouring cold water on the push to change the rules. 

“I’m not ready to destroy our government, I’m not ready to destroy our government, no. I think we’ll come together. You have to have faith there’s 10 good people,” he said. 

Updated at 1:25 p.m.

Tags Ben Sasse Bill Cassidy Capitol attack Capitol insurrection Charles Schumer Donald Trump GOP amendments Jan. 6 commission Joe Manchin Kevin McCarthy Lisa Murkowski Mike Rounds Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Pat Toomey Rob Portman Susan Collins
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