A bipartisan effort to create an independent commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection was defeated by Senate Republicans on Thursday, all but ensuring that one of the darkest days in U.S. history will not get the fullest possible accounting.
Thirty-five Senate Republicans voted to block legislation that would create a 10-member panel, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to trace the factors that led to the Jan. 6 attack and to probe the actions of insurrectionists, security officials, and top federal government leaders that day.
Six Republicans joined all Senate Democrats in voting yes, meaning they fell short of the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome the filibuster—the first time that GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has deployed the filibuster since being relegated to the minority in January. The minority leader had to ask senators to vote against it as a personal favor to him, according to CNN.
The six Republicans voting to advance the legislation were Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
Congressional Democrats have discussed creating a special congressional committee to investigate the insurrection as a backstop, and they have vowed that there will be some kind of deep dive into Jan. 6 no matter what. But the GOP’s successful opposition effectively forecloses what many on both sides believe was the most effective, transparent, and credible option to do that work: an independent commission, insulated from the political process, with a well-defined mission and resources to carry it out.
The failure of such a proposal seemed unthinkable in the aftermath of the attack, when GOP senators largely expressed support for an independent commission. Many of them, however, changed their tune after McConnell went all-in on opposing the bill last week. For example, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted in February that he supported a “9/11-style” commission; this week, he told reporters that the process had been “hijacked” for political purposes.
But, while they tried, Republicans could not hide behind the explanation that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had engineered a partisan bill. The legislation passed her chamber in an unexpectedly bipartisan fashion last week, complicating McConnell’s opposition and weakening his argument that the commission would be “slanted” in a partisan way.
An eleventh hour attempt by the mother of fallen Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was killed during the attack, to personally lobby senators also complicated McConnell’s hard stance against the bill.
While most of the House Republican conference voted against the bill, 35 GOP lawmakers joined all Democrats in supporting it, a mini-jailbreak that amounted to a stinging rebuke of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s push against the legislation.
But McConnell and his lieutenants quickly maneuvered around that show of force and convinced most Republicans that an independent effort to review Jan. 6 would only serve to hurt the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections.
To justify their opposition, Republicans deflected by saying an independent commission shouldn’t focus on the insurrection but political violence generally. Others simply tried to memory-hole that three-dozen of their House colleagues thought the bill was a good idea. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) told reporters he would oppose the commission “until they make it bipartisan,” ignoring that it already was the product of a compromise.
The commission, proposed in legislation written after a series of negotiations between Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and John Katko (R-NY), was to be modeled after the Sept. 11 commission in having an even partisan makeup, with commissioners picked by leaders of both parties. Republicans said they became concerned over unequal staff resources and the possibility the commission could release a report before the 2022 election.
Seeking to address those concerns, on Wednesday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) proposed an amendment to the commission bill to give the GOP side equal staffing resources, among other things. But because senators voted against moving to debate on the measure, there was no chance to consider it.
One of the bill’s few GOP proponents, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), said the opposition might come back to haunt his party. “I think the perception on the part of the public is that the Jan. 6 Commission is just trying to get to the truth of what happened,” Romney told reporters on Wednesday, “and that Republicans would be seen as not wanting to let the truth come out.”