‘The truth is hard’: Senate Republicans block commission to study Capitol riot of Jan. 6

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a bipartisan commission proposed to study the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

The Senate voted 54-35 Friday on whether to debate the measure, which fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster, which blocks debate of the measure. The House had approved legislation to create the commission with support from 35 Republicans.

“I can’t image anyone voting against the establishment of a commission on the greatest assault, since the Civil War, on the Capitol,” President Joe Biden said Thursday in Cleveland.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the vote to focus the spotlight on Republicans who were reluctant to study what provoked the attack left five dead and 140 police officers injured.

“We have to investigate, expose and report on the truth. We need to establish a trusted record of what really transpired on Jan. 6 and the events that preceded it,” Schumer said. “The truth of the matter seems to be that Senate Republicans oppose the commission because they fear that it might upset Donald Trump and their party’s mid-term messaging.”

“Senate Republicans must decide if they are on the side of the truth or on the side of Donald Trump’s Big Lie,” Schumer added.

To hasten a vote on the commission, the Senate postponed votes to complete research-and-development legislation to counter China until June. Among its many facets, the measure would boost the semiconductor industry and spur efforts to compete better against China in science and technology. But the measure that enjoys broad bipartisan support became contentious because a handful of Republican senators sought amendments for issues such as better securing the southern border.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., right, and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, leave a Senate Republican Policy Committee closed-door luncheon in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on May 27, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposed the commission. He said the Justice Department is already prosecuting 445 suspects in the attack, with more arrests expected. Legislative committees are already holding hearings and drafting recommendations to prevent another attack, he said.

McConnell accused Democrats of wanting to relitigate Trump, who was impeached in the House and charged with inciting the insurrection. The Senate acquitted Trump.

“Obviously the role of the former president has been litigated exhaustively – exhaustively – in the high-profile impeachment trial we had here in the Senate several months ago,” McConnell said. “I do not believe the additional extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing.”

Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska joined Democrats in supporting the commission.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said the Justice Department could never share its information about the cases until they are prosecuted, but that he would support a commission once those investigations are complete.

“As a practical matter, I don’t think that we can do this thing until after a lot of those criminal probes are completed,” Rounds said. “I still would like to see a commission go through, just for history’s sake. I’d like to see it, but I think we’re going to have to wait until after the criminal prosecutions are completed.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by fellow Republican leadership, speaks to reporters on Tuesday. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch, Getty Images)

Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died of natural causes the day after he was sprayed with chemical spray in the attack, met Thursday with senators to urge a commission that would explain what happened. She was joined by D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack after being beaten by rioters, and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black and heard racial slurs during the attack.

“They put their lives on the line,” said Sicknick, who called opposition to the commission “a slap in the face.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., met with Sicknick for what he called a respectful conversation. But he opposed the commission because he expects partisan results.

“I’m not sure what other questions remain unanswered after all those investigations,” Johnson said. “This would be a political commission. That’s the bottom line here and that’s why I won’t support it.”

Sen. Mitt Romney said his meeting with Sicknick was a chance to express his condolences and “hear about the experiences of the two officers who were involved as well.”

Murkowski, who also supports the commission, said she shared “serious hugs” with Sicknick’s relatives and the officers.

“I am heartsick that you feel that you need to come and advocate to members of Congress that we stand up and say, ‘The truth is hard, but the truth is necessary,'” Murkowski said she told them.

Gladys Sicknick, left, mother of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from natural causes after he was sprayed with chemicals during the Jan. 6 mob attack on Congress, leaves a meeting with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin after advocating for creation of an independent commission to investigate the assault, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021. She is escorted by Harry Dunn, center, a U.S. Capitol Police officer who faced the rioters on Jan. 6., and Sandra Garza, far right, partner of Brian Sicknick. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

Related: Capitol Police union warns of departures after Jan. 6 riot and continued overtime strain

Four former secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security – Republicans Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff and Democrats Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson – urged Congress to create a commission in a joint statement Thursday.

“We must understand how the violent insurrection at the Capitol came together to ensure the peaceful transfer of power in our country is never so threatened again,” the statement said.

But even among the seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trial earlier this year, opinion was divided.

Murkowski said an independent review is more important than short-term political concerns.

“I don’t want to know, but I need to know. And I think it’s important for the country that there be an independent evaluation,” Murkowski said. “To be making a decision for the 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.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks May 26 during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies of Senate Appropriations Committee at Dirksen Senate Office in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

Despite his own support, Romney said others think the investigations by the Homeland Security and Rules committees will be enough.

“I think the attack on the building was a very severe attack on democracy and is having shockwaves waves around the world,” Romney said.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., opposed it because legislative committees are already reviewing the attack and drafting recommendations to prevent another one.

Collins proposed changes in how the commission staff is chosen and a firmer deadline for a commission report, in an effort at compromise. But other Republicans said the changes weren’t enough to win support.

Cassidy said if the concern was that the commission would be partisan, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., could simply appoint special committees to study the attack.

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Republican opposition frustrated Democrats.

“There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against the commission, since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key swing vote. “Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”

The 10-member commission would have had half its members appointed by Democratic congressional leaders and half by Republicans. If it had been approved, it would have:

  • Studied the facts and circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 attack and what provoked it.
  • Included commissioners who are expected to have expertise in law enforcement, civil rights and intelligence.
  • Issued subpoenas to secure information, with approval required by a majority of commission members or by agreement between the Democratic chairman and Republican vice chairman.
  • Produced a final report by Dec. 31.

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