WASHINGTON — The Senate could vote as early as next week on House-passed legislation creating an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But it’s unclear if at least 10 Republican senators will support the bill, the threshold needed to move forward. It could be the first bill this year to be blocked by a filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer began taking steps on Wednesday to speed the bill to the floor, saying that he intends to hold a vote after the House voted 252-175 to pass the legislation.
“My Senate Republican colleagues must now ask themselves: Are they going to join us in pursuing the truth, or are they going to cover for Donald Trump and his big lie?” the New York Democrat said, without specifying when the vote would be.
But even though 35 House Republicans broke ranks to support the bill, an unusually high split, Senate GOP opposition grew after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out against the measure on Wednesday, arguing that it’s unnecessary because there are “strong existing investigations” already happening in Congress and the Justice Department.
It appeared to trigger a shift among his members. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said on Tuesday he was interested in a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol attack, because “we clearly had an insurrection on that particular day, and I don’t want it to be swept under any rug.”
But after McConnell voiced his opposition, Rounds said Wednesday that he has similar concerns as as the leader after reading the “fine print,” fretting that Democrats would have more power over staff appointments.
The Republican unease is driven by an uncomfortable fact for their party: The Capitol was ransacked by supporters of former President Donald Trump, who sought to disrupt the presidential vote count and prevent his defeat from being cemented.
And even after being ousted from office, Trump has solidified his position as the leader of the Republican Party and continues to falsely insist that the election was stolen from him. In surveys, large numbers of self-identified Republicans say they believe his fabricated claims about widespread fraud in 2020 costing him the presidency.
Lawmakers who have voted to impeach him or debunk his falsehoods, like Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., have paid a price.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and McConnell risk the wrath of Trump if they give the imprimatur of bipartisanship to a commission that uncovers unflattering facts about him or his supporters. They also fear that the issue would distract from their goal of winning control of the House and Senate in the 2022 elections.
On Thursday, Trump released a statement attacking “35 wayward Republicans” who voted for the House bill and hinting at consequences from voters.
“Democrats stick together, the Republicans don’t. They don’t have the Romney’s, Little Ben Sasse’s, and Cheney’s of the world. Unfortunately, we do,” he said, referring to Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. Ben Sasse, who have been critical of him. “Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak. The voters understand!”
The legislation was negotiated by the top Democrat and Republican on House Homeland Security C Committee, Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Ranking Member John Katko, R-N.Y. It would create an independent commission of members appointed equally by the two parties, a Republican demand that Democrats agreed to.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is retiring and voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges, said Thursday he opposes the bill because Senate committees are already investigating the riot.
“These investigations are being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course,” he said. “I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, appeared undecided on the Jan. 6 commission, telling reporters: “I want to see what what the scope is.”
Romney, R-Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have said they support the idea of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. But they haven’t stated how they’d vote if the House bill were to come up in the Senate.
If the legislation is blocked, it could give ammunition to Democrats who want to abolish the super-majority rule and allow bills to advance with a simple majority.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he remains optimistic about of the Jan. 6 bill and said there’s a “very, very good chance we’re going to pass it.” He was skeptical that revisions are needed.
“The House bill made all the accommodations to the Republicans over there anyway,” he told reporters. “How much more can we do?”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she’d be disappointed if the GOP prevents the independent commission from being formed after it was crafted to address their demands.
Asked what would happen next if the bill is filibustered, she said: “I don’t think that’s clear.”
But the No. 2 Senate Republican said the outcome is still uncertain.
“I think our members are in different places. So we’re continuing the discussion,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., who said he was still reviewing at the bill. “Thirty-five votes in the House — it’s not a lot but it’s a significant number of Republicans.”