Senate blocks legislation to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection

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A pro-Trump mob clashes with police on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • The Senate voted 54-35 to reject the creation of a January 6 commission.
  • The House passed the bill in a bipartisan vote, but McCarthy and McConnell came out against it.
  • Republicans became hardened in their opposition to the bill over its political implications.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Senate on Friday blocked the advancement of a bill to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly January 6 Capitol riot, after weeks of hardening Republican opposition.

A motion to invoke cloture and advance the bill was defeated in a 54-35 vote, receiving the support of all present Democrats and six Republicans but failing to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome the filibuster. Senate Republicans’ blocking of the bill marks their first successful legislative filibuster of the Biden administration.

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Rob Portman of Ohio were the only Republicans to vote in favor of moving to debate on the bill.

Democrats, who have continued to seek answers regarding the insurrection that temporarily halted the Electoral College proceedings and forced lawmakers to retreat to secure locations, were met by growing GOP intransigence on the issue – fueled by heightened Republican angst about the issue spilling into the 2022 midterm elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Senate Republicans’ “brazen attempts to whitewash the attack of January 6th” in filibustering the bill in a Friday letter to his colleagues, adding that “Senators should rest assured that the events of January 6th will be investigated and that as Majority Leader, I reserve the right to force the Senate to vote on the bill again at the appropriate time.”

The bill to authorize the commission, H.R. 3233, was crafted though a bipartisan deal led by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and GOP Rep. John Katko of New York, the panel’s ranking member.

After weeks of negotiations, the House passed the bill in a 252-175 vote, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats to support the legislation despite vocal opposition from House GOP leadership, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

In the lead-up to the House vote, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also came out against the House bill, criticizing it for being “slanted and unbalanced.”

Katko was undeterred by pushback within quarters of his party, reiterating his view of the bill’s importance.

“I recognize there are differing views on this issue, which is an inherent part of the legislative process and not something I take personally,” he said in a statement. “However, I feel a deep obligation to get the answers US Capitol Police and Americans deserve and ensure an attack on the heart of our democracy never happens again.”

Similar to the 9/11 Commission, the 10-member January 6 commission would have had subpoena power in gathering information about the attack. The commission would have been mandated to issue a final report by December 31, 2021 with “findings regarding the facts and causes of the attack” and ways “to prevent future attacks on our democratic institutions.”

In the evenly-split committee, five members, including the commissioner’s chair, would have been selected by congressional Democratic leaders, while the other five members, including the vice chair, would have been picked by GOP leaders.

Former President Donald Trump, who in January was impeached for a second time by the House for his role in the riot, came out against the bill.

Read more: 
A multitude of Trump-era mysteries are poised to come roaring back into the headlines. Everyone involved is bracing for what happens after that.

“Republicans in the House and Senate should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission,” he said in a statement. “Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left.

Overriding concerns about the midterm elections drove the GOP narrative in sinking the bill, though.

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From left, Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Senate Republican Policy Committee Chair Roy Blunt of Missouri. All three men opposed the creation of a January 6 commission. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Republicans were not keen on supporting a January 6 probe

Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota told CNN last week that a January 6 commission could undermine the GOP as it seeks to regain control of Congress.

“I want our midterm message to be on the kinds of things that the American people are dealing with: That’s jobs and wages and the economy and national security, safe streets and strong borders – not relitigating the 2020 elections,” he said. “A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward.”

Earlier this week, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the first Senate Republicans to come out in support of the House legislation. However, the overwhelming majority of their colleagues refused to support the bill’s passage.

On Thursday, CNN reported that McConnell asked GOP senators who were still on the fence about their vote to support a filibuster of the bill as “a personal favor” to him.

Gladys Sicknick, the mother of fallen Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, visited the Capitol on Thursday in an effort to persuade GOP lawmakers to back the commission. She was joined Sicknick’s longtime partner, Sandra Garza.

Officer Sicknick suffered a stroke and passed away on January 7, a day after fighting back rioters at the Capitol.

“You know, usually I stay in the background, and I just couldn’t stay quiet anymore,” Gladys Sicknick told reporters after meeting with Romney.

Garza criticized lawmakers who opposed the commission.

“I think it’s very disturbing that anyone would not want to support this,” she said. “I mean, why would they not want to get to the bottom of such horrific violence? I don’t understand why they would resist getting to the bottom of what happened that day and fully understanding how to prevent it. It just boggles my mind.”

Democrats, incensed by conservative efforts to downplay the insurrection, are likely to use the bill’s defeat to exert more pressure on moderate Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona for filibuster reform.

Last week, Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii criticized the likelihood of a GOP filibuster of the bill.

“Filibustering a bipartisan commission regarding the January 6 insurrection is a three dimensional way to make the point that the filibuster is primarily a destructive force in American politics,” he tweeted.

According to Politico, House Democrats could potentially create a select committee to investigate the January 6 riot, but it would almost certainly be criticized by the GOP as overtly political.