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House passes bill to create Jan. 6 commission amid strong GOP opposition

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the chorus of Republican leadership formally urging members to vote against the measure.

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday voted 252-175 to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but the bill faces a different landscape in the Senate, where it needs at least 10 Republicans and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes it.

Republican opposition coalesced against the bipartisan legislation hours before the House vote, which passed largely along party lines. But 35 GOP House members voted in favor of the bill, showing that divisions remain within the party on issues related to former President Donald Trump.

During a House debate, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, had called for existing congressional powers to investigate the attack and to work with the Justice Department.

McConnell, R-Ky., echoed comments by his GOP counterpart in the House on Wednesday morning by urging his party's members to oppose the legislation to create the independent commission. At least 10 Republicans are needed in the Senate.

The opposition to an independent probe into the deadly attacks that were, just four months earlier, broadcast on screens across the U.S. underscores the deep partisan divisions in Washington.

The investigative commission legislation is the product of a compromise announced last week by the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and the top Republican, Rep. John Katko of New York.

"An independent, bipartisan commission will protect against politicization and enable a review that focuses solely on the facts and circumstances surrounding the security breach at the Capitol as well as other instances of relevant violence," Katko said in a statement after its passage. “I appreciate each lawmaker’s consideration of the bill and respect the diversity of thought."

Under the bill, the commission would include five members, including a chair, appointed by Democratic leaders in Congress, and another five, including a vice-chair, appointed by Republican leaders.

Commissioners would also need to have “significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cybersecurity,” and current government officers or employees are prohibited from appointment. The panel has the power to issue subpoenas upon agreement between the chair and the vice-chair or a vote by a majority of commission members.

Republicans have sought to derail the commission, including insisting the panel have a scope broader than the Jan. 6 attacks, and following the lead of Trump, some have bluntly attempted to revise the narrative of what happened during the deadly riots.

During a House debate on the bill, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, excoriated Republicans for opposing the bill en masse.

"Benghazi — you guys chased the former Secretary of State all over the country, spent millions of dollars," Ryan said, referring to Hillary Clinton. "We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head and we can't get bipartisanship. What else has to happen in this country?"

He added, "We need two political parties in this country that are both living in reality and you ain't one of them!"

On Wednesday morning, McConnell said on the Senate floor that he'd "made a decision to oppose the House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January the 6th."

McConnell argued that law enforcement efforts to find the perpetrators are ongoing and bipartisan investigations at the committee level are already underway, saying there has been “no shortage of robust investigations” into the events.

"It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could actually lay on top of existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress," he said.

McConnell’s remarks come one day after Trump released a statement demanding that he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reject the commission. McCarthy announced his opposition to the legislation on Tuesday morning.

More than 440 people have been charged so far with participating in the attack, which left five dead. Many have ties to right-wing extremist groups, the FBI has said.

Prosecutors have said some of the hundreds of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol were prepared for battle, wearing helmets and tactical gear. The attack was timed to try to derail Congress counting the votes in the presidential election that confirmed Trump's defeat and the election of President Joe Biden.

A majority of the public supports the creation of an independent commission to look into the attacks, according to recent polling.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate after McConnell, suggested that creating the commission was bad, politically, for the GOP.

Thune told reporters that Republican senators essentially fell into two camps: those who supported the panel, and those "who, I think, believe it will be counterproductive because of the work that's already been done, and that it could be weaponized politically, and drug into next year.”

"In this environment, everything is going to be used politically,” added Thune, who would not say whether he supports the commission.

Democratic leaders vowed to move forward with the vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., referring to Republicans, said at a news conference, "it sounds like they are afraid of the truth. And that's most unfortunate."

"But hopefully they'll get used to the idea that the American people want us to find the truth, and that is what we intend to do. And to do it in a way that is as unifying as possible," she said.

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tore into House Republicans for opposing the proposed panel.

“What the Republicans are doing, the House Republicans, is beyond crazy, to be so far under the thumb of Donald J. Trump. Letting the most dishonest president in American history dictate the prerogatives of the Republican Party will be its demise. Mark my words," Schumer said, saying their decision was based on a “shameful” desire to protect Trump and the “big lie.”

In a letter circulated by a Democratic lawmaker's office Wednesday, a group of unnamed Capitol Police officers criticized Republicans for opposing the commission. The letter was written on Capitol Police letterhead without the authorization of department leadership, the USCP said in a statement, and the agency said it could not confirm the letter had been written by members of its police force.

"It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect, would downplay the events of January 6th," the letter states. “It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that ‘It wasn’t that bad.’ That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members."

In the Senate, however, the bill will face an uphill climb after McConnell's comments, with Democrats needing at least 10 Republicans to join them in supporting the measure to overcome a filibuster.

The future of the investigative panel is just one of numerous measures or hearings surrounding the Jan. 6 attacks where partisan divisions threaten to spill over this week.

On Thursday, the House is scheduled to vote on a broad $1.9 billion spending bill that includes funds to boost security measures at the Capitol.

CORRECTION (May 19, 2021, 10:45 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misidentified a House member from Texas. He is Chip Roy, not Roy Chip.