A crucial Senate vote on a bill to create an independent inquiry to investigate the deadly January 6 Capitol Hill riot failed Friday, falling short of the 10 Republican votes needed to advance and illustrating GOP efforts to move on from the insurrection that left five people dead and injured 140 police officers.
The vote was 54 to 35, showing the bill had a bipartisan majority of support with six Republicans voting with Democrats. However, the bill needed 60 votes to advance. The six GOP senators who backed the bill were: Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Nine Republican senators and two Democrats didn’t vote.
The Republican opposition highlights the hold former President Donald Trump still has on most of his party, and underscores the deep partisan divide surrounding the fallout of the attack on the US Capitol, a point Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made following the vote.
The New York Democrat said the Republican minority “just mounted a partisan filibuster against an independent commission to report on January 6.”
“This vote has made it official: Donald Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ has now fully enveloped the Republican Party,” Schumer added.
The tally of Republican supporters was one fewer than the seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial earlier this year. Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania did not vote. Burr had said ahead of Friday that he opposed the bill. Portman did not vote to convict Trump in February.
The key vote had been expected as early as Thursday, but due to the order of Senate procedure that vote had to wait until the previous legislation was cleared. Republican senators have delayed overnight passage of a massive bill designed to increase American competitiveness with China, and that means the key procedural vote on a bill to create the January 6 commission has to wait. That impasse was solved Friday morning when senators agreed to bring the vote back up after a one-week recess for the Memorial Day holiday.
Bill’s supporters sought to pressure GOP
Supporters of the January 6 commission — including the mother of a Capitol Police officer who died the day after the riot — pleaded with GOP senators throughout the week in order to convince at least 10 Republicans to back the plan.
Murkowski, took aim at her GOP colleagues Thursday night for moving to block the measure — and was critical of the rationale by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that such a commission could prove politically problematic for the GOP ahead of the 2022 midterms.
“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,” Murkowski said. “Is that really what this is about is everything is just one election cycle after another? Or are we going to acknowledge that as a country that is based on these principles of democracy that we hold so dear?”
The mother of fallen US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick met with more than a dozen Republican senators — including Murkowski — urging them to vote to establish the commission. But even after those meetings, which two sources familiar said were cordial, most of the senators told her they wouldn’t be changing their minds.
Most GOP senators made it clear to Gladys Sicknick, her son’s girlfriend Sandra Garza, Capitol Hill Police Officer Harry Dunn and DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone that they don’t want a commission to investigate what happened that day.
Sicknick told reporters that she had hoped her meetings would sway Republicans. “Usually I’m staying in the background, and I just couldn’t stay quiet anymore,” she told reporters Thursday.
The meetings highlighted the emotional toll that the riot has taken on the Capitol Hill community. The meetings, according to a source familiar with them, were “very hard” for Sicknick, who — along with Garza — wore a necklace with some of her son’s ashes in them.
In another reminder of the riot hanging over Washington: Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who became a national hero for his actions defending the Senate during the siege of the Capitol — was seen guarding the Senate on Thursday evening as part of his assignment protecting lawmakers when the chamber is in session.
What’s in the bill?
The commission would have attempted to find bipartisan consensus. According to the bill, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate evenly split the selection of its 10 members. A subpoena can only be issued to compel witness testimony if it has the support of the majority of members, or if the commission’s chairperson, chosen by Democrats, and the vice-chairperson, chosen by Republicans, come to an agreement.
The commission would have been also required to submit to the President and Congress a final report by the end of 2021 and dissolve 60 days thereafter — about nine months before the 2022 elections.
The House passed the bill 252-175 last week, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats.
Senate in overnight over separate bill
At least eight Republicans requested time to speak on the floor overnight — for up to an hour each — to voice their objections to the legislative package aimed at China, known as “the US Innovation and Competition Act,” and those GOP senators slammed what they said is a rushed process to make last-minute changes they have yet to review.
Three senators spoke late Thursday night and early Friday morning — Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Rick Scott of Florida — before the Senate adjourned, meaning there are at least five senators who will likely speak when the Senate resumes.
According to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who is the GOP Whip, Republicans would likely use five to six hours of their allotted time to speak on the floor. That could be followed by additional debate as well as a series of procedural votes ahead of final passage of the legislative package, pushing the vote on the 1/6 commission farther into the day Friday or possibly to the weekend. This could change or move more quickly if senators give back their allotted time or forgo some of the steps they have been asked to take, which could speed up or slow down the process depending on what they decide to do.
The bill aimed at China and US competitive would invest over $200 billion in American technology, science and research and had broad bipartisan support. Its struggles to advance highlight the difficulty Democrats will have to advance any legislation through the narrowly divided Senate, as several major issues are in negotiations among lawmakers.