Senate Republicans blocked legislation on Friday that would create a bipartisan and independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, launching their first filibuster of the session and sinking one of the few bipartisan efforts before Congress.
In a 54-35 procedural vote, senators fell short of the 60 votes needed to avert a filibuster and move to open debate on the legislation. Six Republicans voted with Democrats, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
In a 50-50 Senate narrowly controlled by Democrats, the party needed at least 10 Republicans to avert a filibuster. All of the GOP supporters, aside from Portman, voted to convict former President Donald Trump of “incitement of insurrection” after the Jan. 6 attack during his Senate impeachment trial.
After months of delays and accusations of partisan maneuvering, negotiators in the House brokered a bipartisan agreement on how to form a commission: The 10-member panel would be divided evenly between both parties with a Democratic-appointed chairman and a GOP-appointed vice chairman.
The commission legislation was slated to get a vote on Thursday but got pushed to the next day after the Senate spent all night trying to wrap up a lengthy amendment process on a bipartisan bill to boost research and scientific innovation to help compete better against China.
“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?” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said before the vote on a commission that would be granted subpoena power. “The big lie has eroded that democracy. And we must do everything we can to rebut it.”
Republicans across both chambers were overwhelmingly opposed to establishing such a commission that would have been styled similarly to an independent panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And there was uniform resistance from leadership, including House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, arguing that another investigation into Jan. 6 would be duplicative of existing probes.
“I do not believe the additional extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing,” McConnell said on Thursday, reiterating his support for the ongoing FBI investigation and prosecution of rioters.
Democrats argued that Republicans were instead siding with Trump, who had been adamantly opposed to such a commission, and 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 midterm elections.
But some Republicans were similarly frustrated that the party stood opposed to an effort that could have uncovered more evidence from Jan. 6, what exactly led up to the riots and the rise of domestic extremism.
“To be making a decision for short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on Jan. 6, I think we need to look at that critically,” Murkowski told reporters on Thursday.
“Is that really what this is about?” she added. “Is everything just one election cycle after another, or are we going to acknowledge that as a country that (this) is based on these principles of democracy that we hold so dear?”
With the hopes for an independent commission likely gone, 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.