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Senate GOP thwarts Jan. 6 inquiry

Angry Democrats see politics in rejection by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | May 29, 2021 at 4:50 a.m.
U.S. Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman (left), who diverted rioters from the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, gets a greeting Friday from Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., after Lankford joined in voting against an independent investigation of the insurrection. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- The bipartisan push to open an independent, nonpartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol suffered a fatal blow Friday, as nearly all Senate Republicans banded together in opposition.

The 54-to-35 outcome, six votes shy of the 60 needed to circumvent a 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 ultimately died after responding to the insurrection, as well as an eleventh-hour bid by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to save the measure by introducing changes intended to address her party's principal objections.

In its wake, 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, D-W.Va., told reporters that 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.

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"I'm very, very disappointed, very frustrated that politics has trumped -- literally and figuratively -- the good of the country," Manchin said.

Gladys Sicknick, whose son, Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and then died Jan. 7 after engaging with the rioters -- the Washington medical examiner said he suffered a stroke and died of natural causes -- suggested those who opposed the panel visit her son's grave.

In a CNN interview after the vote, she asked of the Republicans: "What kind of country do they want?"

Senate Democrats angrily questioned how the Republicans could vote against an independent investigation.

"An insurrection without consequences -- without even a proper investigation -- is a dress rehearsal for another insurrection," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in Congress. "When the Capitol Police, who protect us with their lives, ask for this commission, we are ingrates to refuse."

Only a handful of Republican senators had recently expressed positive sentiments about a commission. On Friday, six of them -- 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 former President Donald Trump on impeachment charges for inciting an insurrection.

"The investigations will happen with or without Republicans," declared Cassidy. "To ensure the investigations are fair, impartial and focused on the facts, Republicans need to be involved."

Murkowski said she needed to know more about what happened before and on the day of the attack, and why.

"Truth is hard stuff, but we've got a responsibility to it," she said. "We just can't pretend that nothing bad happened, or that people just got too excitable. Something bad happened. And it's important to lay that out."

Murkowski added, "I don't want to know, but I need to know."

MISSING IN ACTION

Another 11 senators -- nine Republicans and two Democrats -- did not participate in the vote. Though it was held on the last day before senators took 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.

Both Democrats who missed the vote, Patty Murray of Washington and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, along with Republican Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, would have cast yes votes had they been present -- taking the legislation within three votes of the 60 it needed to proceed. Murray needed to fly home for a personal matter, she said on Twitter. It was not immediately clear why Sinema was not present. Toomey had a family commitment, his spokesman said.

At least one other of the nine Republicans who didn't vote -- Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota -- issued positive sentiments about a commission last week, only to walk them back on the eve of the vote.

"I still would like to see a commission go through, just for history sake, I'd like to see it -- but I think we're going to have to wait until after the criminal prosecutions are completed," Rounds said Thursday, arguing that the commission would have difficulty accessing witnesses and information tied up in court cases. "Practically speaking we just can't do it at this point."

In a statement Friday, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., portrayed the commission as redundant.

"There are multiple investigations already underway, within Congress and by law enforcement agencies," he said. "If the objective is to get to the truth and prevent a repeat of this clear security failure, I am confident we can do that using our existing authority in Congress and with the support of the Department of Justice."

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., had previously announced his opposition, saying, "This duplicative, partisan commission isn't designed to uncover new information, but rather to advance the Democrats' partisan goals."

However, 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 joined all voting House Democrats to back the creation of a Jan. 6 commission, to be modeled after an independent panel formed in the aftermath of 9/11, and authorized to produce 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 congressional inquiries and as a Trojan horse that would help Democrats in next year's midterm elections.

"I do not believe the additional, extraneous 'commission' that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing," McConnell said Thursday.

McConnell, who once said Trump was responsible for provoking the mob attack on the Capitol, said dismissively of Democrats, "They'd like to continue to litigate the former president, into the future."

Trump, some of whose most zealous supporters carried out the attack, has cast a long shadow over the GOP as lawmakers have wrestled with the proposal to set up a 10-person panel of nongovernment experts to find answers -- and establish accountability. The proposal called for five members, including the chairman, to be appointed by Democrats, and another five, including the vice chairman, 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 congressional 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 ills and trying to sidestep his outbursts, when their aim is to make the next election cycle a referendum on President Joe Biden and the Democrats who control Congress.

Collins tried to address both points with an amendment that would have required the commission's chairman and vice chairman 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 reached a vote on the floor.

As the vote began Friday, Collins had a visibly angry reaction, confronting Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and accusing him of undermining the vote by not declaring ahead of time that he and the Democrats would back her changes if the measure to take up the bill advanced.

A spokeswoman for Portman said the Ohio Republican had sought and secured a personal assurance from Schumer on Friday that Collins' amendment would be voted on before throwing his support behind the commission. Toomey's spokesman said the senator also would have voted for the commission "with the expectation" that the Senate would have then voted on Collins' changes.

SELECT COMMITTEE

Trump entered the fray last week, warning that the commission was a "Democrat trap" and excoriating the "35 wayward Republicans" who supported the proposal in the House.

"Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak," he said in a statement, issuing a challenge to McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to heed his warnings.

The GOP's reluctance to hold Trump accountable for inciting the riot began just days after the event, when Democrats responded by impeaching him for a second time, an effort in which only 10 House Republicans joined. A month later, a majority of Senate Republicans voted to acquit him based on a widely challenged argument that the Constitution does not permit the conviction of former presidents.

The GOP's votes stood in sharp contrast to its prevailing rhetoric at the time, which was sharply critical of Trump. McConnell, immediately after voting to acquit the former president, blamed him for inciting the insurrection. Yet in recent weeks such criticism largely fell silent as Republicans muzzled anti-Trump sentiment in 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 motives in rallying the votes for an outside investigative commission.

In a statement Friday condemning McConnell and other Republicans who refused to support the commission, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed that her party would "proceed to find the truth." The GOP, she said, "clearly put their election concerns above the security of the Congress and country."

Schumer said Republicans were "trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug" out of "fear or fealty" to Trump.

"Do my Republican colleagues remember that day?" he asked moments after the vote. "Do my Republican colleagues remember the savage mob calling for the execution of Mike Pence, the makeshift gallows outside the Capitol?"

Schumer added, "Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they are afraid of Donald Trump."

He left open the possibility of another vote on establishing a bipartisan commission, declaring, "The events of Jan. 6 will be investigated."

In fact, Schumer and Pelosi are now planning their own committee investigations into the attack, how it was coordinated and why the government failed to prevent an assault that left several people dead, the Capitol ransacked and those inside at risk.

Pelosi could set up a select committee focused solely on the attack, handing Democrats unilateral subpoena power and a much-longer timeline to investigate whatever they wanted.

Schumer seemingly endorsed the idea Friday, saying it was "better to investigate with a select committee than not investigate."

Progressives seized on Republicans' opposition as new justification to press their case for invoking the so-called nuclear option to rewrite the filibuster rule and allow bills to pass on simple majority votes. Activists have pressed Democratic leaders to do so, and then skirt Republican opposition to enact pressing liberal priorities.

"If the Republicans can't agree to an independent commission investigating the first armed insurrection at the Capitol in our nation's history, then something is bad wrong," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. "And that something is the filibuster."

Information for this article was contributed by Karoun Demirjian, Mike DeBonis and Felicia Sonmez of The Washington Post; by Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, Colleen Long and Padmananda Rama of The Associated Press; by Frank Lockwood of the Democrat-Gazette; and by Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer leaves a news conference Friday after final votes going into the Memorial Day recess. As voting began on the Jan. 6 commission, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, angrily confronted Schumer and accused him of undermining the vote by not declaring that Democrats would back an amendment she had proposed to possibly allay some GOP concerns about the measure.
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer leaves a news conference Friday after final votes going into the Memorial Day recess. As voting began on the Jan. 6 commission, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, angrily confronted Schumer and accused him of undermining the vote by not declaring that Democrats would back an amendment she had proposed to possibly allay some GOP concerns about the measure. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell heads to the Senate chamber Friday. After the Jan. 6 commission was blocked in the Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters there were “an awful lot of other Republicans that would have supported” the commission, guessing that but for McConnell, “13 or 14” GOP senators might have voted for the bill.
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell heads to the Senate chamber Friday. After the Jan. 6 commission was blocked in the Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters there were “an awful lot of other Republicans that would have supported” the commission, guessing that but for McConnell, “13 or 14” GOP senators might have voted for the bill. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine,†speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Policy Response to Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Elections' on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine,†speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Policy Response to Russian Interference in the 2016 U.S. Elections' on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Sen. Joe Manchin speaks with journalists after the GOP blocked the Jan. 6 commission through a procedural measure on May 28, 2021. Manchin was frustrated that the bill was blocked. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount
Sen. Joe Manchin speaks with journalists after the GOP blocked the Jan. 6 commission through a procedural measure on May 28, 2021. Manchin was frustrated that the bill was blocked. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount
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