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Republicans block independent commission to investigate attack on U.S. Capitol

The House-passed legislation hit a dead end in the Senate due to Republican opposition led by Sen. Mitch McConnell.
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WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans blocked legislation Friday that would create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The vote was 54 in favor and 35 against — short of the 60 needed to proceed, making it the first bill of the new Democratic-controlled Congress to be thwarted by a filibuster on the Senate floor.

Six GOP senators broke with their leadership and voted with 48 Democratic members to proceed to debate the bill: Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska; Rob Portman, of Ohio; Ben Sasse, of Nebraska; Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana; Mitt Romney, of Utah; and Susan Collins, of Maine.

Two Democrats and nine Republicans were absent.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., missed the vote due to a family commitment but would have voted "yes" to break a filibuster, his spokesman said. His presence would not have been enough for success.

The bill passed the House last week by a vote of 252-175, with 35 Republicans in favor. It was negotiated by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., the top Democrat and the top Republican of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Katko won several concessions on behalf of his party, including splitting the 10 appointees to the commission evenly between the two parties.

But Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, turned against the bill as some in the party feared a commission report would be bad politics for them and undercut their goal of winning control of Congress in the 2022 election. Former President Donald Trump has pressured GOP leaders to oppose it, and McConnell called it a "purely political exercise."

Image: FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Building is stormed by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, 2021
Supporters of President Donald Trump climb through a window as they storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Leah Millis / Reuters file

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told reporters last week that some of his colleagues had concerns that the proposed commission's work could be "weaponized" against them in next year's midterm elections.

"It's got such a heavy political overtone to it," Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said before the vote, which was another sign of Trump's iron grip on the party that has persisted despite his defeat last fall.

The Friday vote was delayed after a logjam Thursday over a China competitiveness bill, which Senate leaders agreed to put off.

Before the commission vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said to Republicans, "What are you afraid of? The truth? Are you afraid that Donald Trump's big lie will be dispelled?"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized McConnell and others for blocking the bill after Democrats agreed to "everything that Republicans asked for."

"In bowing to McConnell’s personal favor request, Republican Senators surrendered to the January 6th mob assault," she said in a statement. "Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans’ denial of the truth of the January 6th insurrection brings shame to the Senate."

McConnell did not speak in the Senate chamber before or after the vote Friday.

Manchin disillusioned with McConnell

On Friday, centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia sounded increasingly upset with McConnell, saying his actions are complicating "any chance we have to be bipartisan."

"Mitch McConnell makes it extremely difficult," Manchin said. "Mitch is, I like to think, a person who understands this institution as well if not better than anyone. He's making it so difficult on something as soon as this commission. The commission is something this country needs."

"There's no excuse. It's just pure raw politics. And that's just so, so disheartening. It really, really is disheartening," he said. "I never thought I'd see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. And I'm going to fight to save this country."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ripped her colleagues who opposed the Jan. 6 bill, accusing her party of bending to electoral concerns while "there's more to be learned."

"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," she told reporters after the vote on the proposed commission was delayed Thursday night.

She said Republicans have an obligation to try to look at the truth.

"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. 6th I, 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" that "we have free and fair elections and we respect the results of those elections and we allow for a peaceful transition of power," she said. "I kind of want that to endure beyond just one election cycle."

'I'm worried'

As Murkowski spoke, Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who was lauded as a hero for his quick actions Jan. 6 to lure rioters away from the Senate, stood only a few feet away, standing guard over the chamber

Later Thursday night, in a conversation witnessed by NBC News, Goodman showed Murkowski his phone and said, “You’re trending.”

She replied, “Wait, you were behind me that whole time?” Murkowski then hugged Goodman. “I’m worried, between us,” she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks during a hearing on May 26, 2021.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks during a hearing on May 26, 2021.Alex Wong / Getty Images

On Thursday, Murkowski pushed back against characterizations by some of her colleagues that the storming of the Capitol during the certification of the Electoral College results was not a big deal.

"This was not a group of tourists coming through. This was not a protest that was mild," she said, referring to comments by Republicans in the House who've downplayed the riot.

"So to suggest that somehow or other, this was not so bad — this was an attack on our Capitol, designed to stop a process that has been in play for, for a century plus, when we move to allow for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next," she said.

Sahil Kapur, Frank Thorp V, Julie Tsirkin and Leigh Ann Caldwell reported from Washington and Dareh Gregorian reported from New York.