Senate Republicans Balk at Jan. 6 Panel, Setting Up Showdown
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed bipartisan efforts to set up an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, setting up a showdown with Democrats that could reverberate in the 2022 campaigns for Congress.
McConnell accused Democrats of trying to drag out a debate about former President Donald Trump’s role in the siege staged by his supporters as they try to hold control of the House and Senate in next year’s election.
“They would like to continue to litigate the former president into the future,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday. “We think the American people, going forward, and in the fall of ‘22, ought to focus on what this administration is doing to the country, and what the clear choice is that we have made to oppose most of these initiatives.”
McConnell’s dismissal of the commission as “a purely political exercise” came as a group of Republicans, led by Susan Collins of Maine, were trying to tweak the House-passed version of a bill to establish the inquiry to gain GOP support. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday night set up a procedural vote that could take place as soon as this week.
“We have to get it passed,” he said on the Senate floor. “Each member of the Senate is going to have to stand up and decide: Are you on the side of truth and accountability, or are you on the side of Donald Trump and the big lie?”
If Republicans end up blocking the measure from moving forward, it would the first use of a filibuster to derail legislation since President Joe Biden took office.
“I see a need for a commission and I’m working to correct flaws in the House bill,” Collins said. “I strongly support a commission.”
But other Republicans leaving a party lunch where Collins laid out her proposal were pessimistic that the changes would persuade them.
“I don’t think I’ll support the commission,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally. “It has politics written all over it, unfortunately.”
At least 10 Republican senators would have to buck both McConnell and Trump to support an outside inquiry to get the bill to a vote. The potential showdown would come as GOP talks on an infrastructure package with the White House are at a pivot point, with Democrats nearing a decision on whether to ditch negotiations and try to force through a partisan plan.
The House passed a bill to create the panel last week, with support from 35 of 211 Republicans. But the subject of an investigation has turned it into a test of loyalty to Trump and created concerns among Republicans that it would provide fodder for Democratic campaigns next year.
Only a few GOP senators, including Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney, have said publicly they support creating a commission, patterned on the one that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most of their colleagues have instead been listing reasons for why they oppose it outright.
McConnell last week called the commission “unbalanced” even though the panel would be split 5-5 between Democratic and Republican appointees, and it would not have the power to issue subpoenas without at least some Republican backing.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri has told reporters he thinks it might be too early for a commission, pointing out it took more than a year for the 9/11 Commission to be named, while worrying a commission could delay actions Congress should take now.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio on Twitter complained that the Republican commissioners’ collective veto power over subpoenas could expose them to political attacks if they block subpoenas requested by Democrats.
Republicans including Collins have recently expressed concern that the chair, appointed by the leaders of the congressional Democratic majority, would select staff in consultation with the Republican vice chair and with rules agreed to by the bipartisan panel. That language was lifted from the law creating the Sept. 11 commission. Collins said she wants assurance that Republican commissioners can also hire staff -- something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she is amenable to.
Unlike the Sept. 11 attacks, however, which was an attack on the country by foreign terrorists, the Jan. 6 insurrection was an attack from within by supporters of Trump who hoped to keep him in power despite his defeat. Any deeper investigation risks creating a political burden for the GOP heading into an election year.
Another change Collins wants to make is setting a 30-day period to wrap up the commission after the Dec. 31 deadline for completing a report. The House bill has a 60-day period. She also wants written into the bill that there would be no extensions of those dates.
South Dakota’s John Thune, the second ranking Senate Republican, said he opposes the House version of the commission but is undecided on Collins’ version.
“Obviously I’m like a number of the others and want to make sure that anything that’s done is about the facts and not a political exercise,” he said. “Some of the things she’s proposing at least on the surface make sense, but I don’t know. It’s still a fluid issue.”
The fallback position for Pelosi could be setting up a select committee with Democratic-controlled subpoena power, just as Republicans backed by McCarthy did with Benghazi years ago. She hasn’t ruled out that option but has said prefers the independent, bipartisan commission approach.
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