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Senate GOP seems poised to block bill creating January 6 commission

▶ Watch Video: Mother of fallen Capitol police officer pushes for riot commission

Senate Republicans appeared set early Friday to block the House-passed bill creating a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Although most Republicans appeared unified in their opposition to the bill, worrying that a commission would drag into next year and potentially affect GOP chances of retaking Congress in the 2022 midterms, a few argue that it is necessary to learn more about the deadly assault by hundreds of Trump supporters.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said Thursday night it was “disappointing” that an independent commission didn’t appear to be in the offing, and criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for prioritizing electoral politics.

“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 January 6, I think we need to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about, one election cycle after another?” Murkowski said. McConnell has argued publicly that there are already ongoing investigations by congressional committees and the Justice Department, making a bipartisan, independent commission redundant.

“I’m disappointed that we just haven’t been able to acknowledge that an independent commission would be an opportunity for us to have an independent review of this while we do our work,” Murkowski said. The senator from Alaska is one of four Republican senators who has expressed support for advancing the bill, and Democrats need 10 to advance it.

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who directed a group of rioters away from the Senate chamber on January 6, happened to be standing behind Murkowski as she spoke to reporters.

“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.” 

Before turning to the commission legislation, the Senate must finish up work on a bipartisan bill aimed at countering China’s growing global influence. That hit some unexpected hurdles, pushing back consideration of the commission measure.

The Senate will resume on Friday morning, and will consider dozens more amendments before a final vote on the China competitiveness bill. It will then presumably take up the commission bill.

May 26, 2021 photo shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leaving a  lunch at the Capitol in Washington. Senate Republicans are ready to deploy the filibuster to block legislation establishing a commission on the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The bill would create a 10-member commission evenly divided between members selected by Democratic and Republican leaders. Both sides would have equal subpoena power, and the commission will be tasked with issuing a report with findings about the January 6 attack by the end of the year. Much of the language in the legislation is copied from the bill creating the 9/11 commission, which passed with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the Senate in 2002.

Both parties called for a creation of a 9/11-style commission in the aftermath of the riot, when a mob of angry Trump supporters overran the Capitol as Congress was counting the electoral votes. But Republicans have backed down in recent months, arguing their party should focus instead on retaking Congress the 2022 midterm elections.

“I guess now we’ll never know,” Murkowski said Thursday of unresolved questions about the January 6 attack. “Isn’t that part of the problem, that we’ll never know? It’ll never be resolved. It’ll always be hanging out there.” 

Most legislation requires 60 votes to advance in the Senate, and Democrats only have a 50-seat majority. Fewer than ten Republicans are expected to support the bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a crucial 50th vote for Democrats on President Joe Biden’s proposals, walks with reporters as senators go to the chamber for votes ahead of the approaching Memorial Day recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021. 

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Several Democrats have called for eliminating the filibuster, and see this bill as further evidence that bills should be permitted to advance with a simple majority. But Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the most vocal Democratic opponent of eliminating the filibuster, said Thursday that while it was “frustrating” to see Republican opposition to the bill, he is “not willing to destroy our government.”

“You have to have faith there’s ten good people,” Manchin said about Republican support for the commission bill.

McConnell has repeatedly indicated he wants to move past January 6, telling reporters on Tuesday that he believed Democrats “would like to continue to debate things that occurred in the past.”

“I think that this is purely political exercise that adds nothing to the subtotal of information,” McConnell said about the legislation. The bipartisan bill, which passed in the Democrat-controlled House earlier this month, was negotiated in part by the Republican ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Republicans have raised concerns about the structure and scope of the bill, and they are worried it could extend beyond its deadline and affect the 2022 midterm elections — despite the requirement in the bill for the commission to wrap up its work by the end of the year. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine is circulating an amendment to the bill, and is expected to vote to advance the bill so she can offer it. But even if it is altered, the measure is still unlikely to garner support from a sufficient number of Republicans.

Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas argued to reporters on Thursday that House and Senate committees were already investigating the attack, which made a commission redundant.

“I think we’re capable of getting to the bottom of it on a bipartisan way, and probably a quicker,” Cornyn said.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said he would be willing to consider the bill if Collins’ amendment pertaining to commission staff selection is accepted. Republicans have worried the current bill would allow the Democratic commissioners to hire all staffers, and Collins’ amendment would assuage GOP concerns by ensuring Republican commissioners would have an equal hand in staff selection as well.

“If the amendment is accepted, you have one set of potential persuadables, including me. If it’s not accepted, then you have another set, a smaller set of persuadables,” Cassidy told reporters.

With the vote approaching, Republicans also came under renewed pressure from Gladys Sicknick, the mother of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died the day after batting rioters at the Capitol on January 6th. 

Gladys Sicknick requested a meeting with each Republican senator on Thursday “to discuss the importance of establishing the bipartisan January 6th Commission,” according to a copy of the meeting request obtained by CBS News. She met with several senators who have expressed opposition to creating a commission as well as some supporters.

She was joined by Sandra Garza, Brian Sicknick’s girlfriend, during her meetings with certain Republican senators, as well as former GOP Congresswoman Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, and U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn. Fanone suffered a heart attack and a concussion during the attack on January 6, and Dunn was called slurs by several of the insurrectionists.

“Usually I’m staying in the background and I just couldn’t, I couldn’t stay quiet anymore,” Gladys Sicknick told reporters after meeting with Romney on Thursday morning.

Alan He, Rebecca Kaplan and Jack Turman contributed to this report.

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