116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan push to launch an independent and nonpartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol suffered a fatal blow Friday, after nearly all Senate Republicans banded together in opposition.
The 54-to-35 outcome, six votes shy of the 60 needed to circumvent a procedural filibuster, followed hours of overnight chaos as lawmakers haggled over unrelated legislation. The vote stood as a blunt rejection by Republicans of an emotional last-minute appeal from the family of a Capitol Police officer who died after responding to the insurrection, as well as an 11th-hour bid by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to save the measure by introducing changes intended to address her party's key objections.
Both of Iowa’s senators, Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, opposed creating the commission. Grassley earlier told reporters he thought the commission was unnecessary in light of criminal investigations by the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security.
In the wake of the failure, many senators who had supported the commission were openly angry, as even the Democrats' most moderate senator blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for killing a bill in order to score political points, instead of doing what was right.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., told reporters there were "an awful lot of other Republicans that would have supported" the commission "if it hadn't been for his intervention," guessing that but for McConnell's whipping, "13 or 14" GOP senators might have voted for the bill.
In the last two weeks, only a handful of Republican senators expressed positive sentiments about a commission. On Friday, six of them — Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Collins — joined all voting Democrats to back the commission. All except Portman voted earlier this year to convict the-President Donald Trump on impeachment charges for inciting an insurrection.
Another 11 — nine Republicans and two Democrats — did not participate in the vote. Though it was held on the last day before senators are scheduled to take a weeklong break, it is striking that so many missed such a high-profile vote — especially because some had voiced positive sentiments about the commission in recent days.
Both Democrats who missed the vote, Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., would have cast yes votes had they been present — bringing the commission legislation within three of the 60 it needed to proceed. Murray needed to fly home for a personal matter, she said via Twitter. It was not immediately clear why Sinema was not present. Toomey had a family commitment, his spokesman said.
At least one other of those nine Republicans — Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota — issued positive sentiments about a commission last week, only to walk them back later.
The GOP opposition means that questions about who should bear responsibility for the attack could continue to be filtered through a partisan lens in congressional committees rather than addressed by an outside, independent panel modeled after the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"The investigations will happen with or without Republicans," declared Sen. Cassidy, one of the Republicans who had voted to move forward. "To ensure the investigations are fair, impartial and focused on the facts, Republicans need to be involved."
The commission legislation was a product of cross-party negotiations among leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee, and it had galvanized significant support among Republicans in the lower chamber.
Last week, 35 GOP House members — including U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa — joined all voting House Democrats to back the creation of a Jan. 6 commission and charged with producing an objective account of what fueled the day's violence.
But in the Senate, Republican sentiment soured after McConnell dismissed the commission as needlessly duplicative of ongoing probes and as a Trojan horse that would help Democrats in the next year's midterm elections, which include a race for Grassley’s seat.
"I do not believe the additional, extraneous 'commission' that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing," McConnell said Thursday.
Trump, whose most zealous supporters carried out the Jan. 6 attack, has cast a long shadow over the GOP as lawmakers wrestled with the proposal to establish a 10-person panel of nongovernment experts charged with finding answers and accountability.
The proposal called for five members, including the chair, to be appointed by Democrats and another five, including the vice chair, to be appointed by Republicans. The commission would have had the power to issue subpoenas on a bipartisan basis, which some Democrats warned — and many Republicans worried — could have been used to force the former president and his allies to testify under oath.
Over the past week, GOP senators voiced concern that even if the commissioners' ranks were bipartisan, the panel's staffing might not be. They also argued that if the commission did not produce a final report before the end of the year, Republican lawmakers would have to spend much of the 2022 campaign season responding to its revelations about Trump's past ills and trying to sidestep his outbursts.
Collins tried to address both points with an amendment that would have required the commission's chair and vice chair to make hires together, and shortened the time it would have to wind down its work after a Dec. 31 deadline to issue a final report. But while her proposed changes generated a flurry of last-minute activity around the bill, they never came to a vote on the floor.
McConnell, immediately after voting to acquit the former president of impeachment, blamed him for inciting the insurrection. Yet in recent weeks such criticism largely fell silent as Republicans muzzled anti-Trump sentiment within their ranks, even ousting the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, from her leadership position over her campaign to hold Trump accountable for the riot.
Instead, the party targeted Democrats, suggesting that they harbored ulterior political motives in rallying the votes for an outside investigative commission.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.