Senate Republicans are expected to block legislation to create a bipartisan and independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a move that will launch the first filibuster of the session and Biden presidency as well as stymie progress to achieving more consensus in Congress.
The Senate is holding a procedural vote later Thursday evening to move to debate on the bill, crafted by both Democrats and Republicans, but it’ll likely fall short of the 60 votes needed and effectively kills the latest effort to look into the riots and what led to them. In a 50-50 Senate narrowly controlled by Democrats, the party needs at least 10 Republicans to avert a filibuster.
The legislation is expected to win over at least several Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romeny of Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who drew up an amendment to try to salvage the commission and sway more of her GOP colleagues.
After months of delays and GOP accusations of partisan maneuvering, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Ranking Member John Katko of New York struck a deal on the framework: 10 members divided evenly between the parties with Democrats appointing a chairman and Republicans naming a vice chairman. The panel would have subpoena power and ban lawmakers or federal employees from sitting on the commission, which would produce a report by the end of the year and dissolve shortly after that.
The House, which is also narrowly controlled by Democrats, passed the commission legislation last week with support from 35 Republicans. It’s one of the few major bipartisan efforts before Congress at a time when friction between the parties complicates passage of such legislation. But the hard-line opposition from GOP leaders in both chambers made it all but certain that the bill wouldn’t end up on President Joe Biden’s desk to become law.
Even in the face of GOP resistance, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York vowed to hold a vote on the legislation. Schumer has repeatedly said he’s willing to put House-passed bills on the floor to put pressure on Republicans, though so far many remain in Senate limbo.
But Republicans enacted a whipping operation to stop Democrats from locking up enough votes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced his opposition to the bill last week, joining his counterpart in the House and effectively sealing the fate of establishing a commission. McConnel has been an outspoken critic of the deadly incident as well as former President Donald Trump’s response to the riots, but the GOP leader argued that another investigatory body would be duplicative and the existing federal probes are sufficient.
“I do not believe the additional extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing,” McConnell said Thursday morning from the floor.
Ahead of the vote, there was a last-ditch effort on Capitol Hill to appeal to Republicans for their support of a commission.
The mother of Brian Sicknick, a U.S. Capitol Police Officer who died the day after Jan. 6 in the wake of confrontations with rioters, met with several GOP senators to convey the importance of the commission, though some reaffirmed that they would still oppose the creation of one.
“Not having a Jan. 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day,” Gladys Sicknick said in a statement. “Putting politics aside, wouldn’t they want to know the truth of what happened on Jan. 6?”
With an independent commission looking increasingly unlikely, the power to probe might shift back to Congress. Several committees have already started investigating and holding hearings on the events of Jan. 6 and law enforcement’s response but pressure could build for the creation of a select committee similar to what was created to investigate the 2014 attacks on the U.S. Embassy complex in Benghazi, Libya.
As the majority party, Democrats would have leverage but need to devote more time and resources rather than if an independent commission took the reins on investigations.
But Democrats are infuriated by the GOP’s blockade.
They view the widespread opposition as the Republican Party reaffirming their commitment to Trump, who has been adamantly opposed to such a commission. And Democrats argue that Republicans are taking a political gamble that the continued focus on Jan. 6 could be hurtful to their electoral prospects – and chances at both majorities – in the 2022 midterms elections.
“There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against this commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for,” Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in a statement. “McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”
With an imminent use of the filibuster, activists and critics of the delay tactic are once again salivating at the chance to eliminate it so Democrats can pass much of their stalled agenda. Some Democratic lawmakers believe that a demonstration of GOP resistance will move some hesitant members who want to stick with the filibuster and preserve Senate tradition.
But opponents of nixing it still don’t seem to be moved. Manchin made it clear again on Thursday that he’s not ready to ditch the filibuster even in the face of GOP resistance.