WASHINGTON – Republicans blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol Rising on Friday, using their filibuster power in the Senate for the first time this year to break down a full record of the deadliest attack on Congress in centuries.
The vote was a clear sign of loyalty to former President Donald J. Trump and the political self-interest of Republicans who were determined to protect themselves from an investigation that could harm their party. They feared an investigation that would remind voters of the aftermath of Mr Trump’s election lies and how Republican lawmakers gave in to them and incited their supporters to violence.
It virtually guaranteed that there was no full, impartial investigation into the causes of the attack, the former president’s conduct when his supporters threatened the legislature and the vice-president, or any links between his congressional allies and the rioters.
While members of both political parties immediately agreed that an investigation was needed, most Republicans have since sought to leave the episode behind, and some have actively sought to deny or downplay the reality of the events.
Only six Republicans joined the Democrats on Friday to help push the move to create an independent commission. The final vote, 54 to 35, missed the 60 senators required to get past a Republican filibuster.
The vote was a bitter defeat for those in favor of the Commission. They argued that the only way to put together a truly complete report of the unrest for a polarized nation would be through an investigation along the lines of the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which outside experts with the power of subpoena carried out a thorough investigation.
Some Republicans expressed disgust for their own party for blocking it, saying they had put politics above the establishment of promised dire facts.
“I don’t want to know, but I need to know,” said Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of the six Republicans who voted to form the commission. “Making a decision for short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and recognizing what lay ahead of us on January 6th – I think we need to be critical.”
While the Justice Department has opened hundreds of criminal cases against rioters, and while congressional committees are likely to scale up emerging investigations, they will almost certainly encounter limits that a national security expert commissioned jointly by Republicans and Democrats would not do. These include partisanship, defiant witnesses, and turf wars that are likely to leave important questions unanswered about how the party rallied over Mr. Trump’s stolen election lies and his demands that Republicans invalidate Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.
“Do my Republican colleagues remember that day?” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, asked shortly after the vote. “Do my Republican colleagues remember the ferocious mob that demanded the execution of Mike Pence, the makeshift gallows outside the Capitol?”
“Shame on the Republican Party that tried to sweep the horrors of the day under the rug because they are afraid of Donald Trump,” he added.
Top Republicans had thought of supporting the measure last week. But eventually they reversed course, and the House of Representatives approved it with only 35 Republican votes. Leaders concluded that an open-ended review of the attack would give Democrats powerful political ammunition ahead of the 2022 midterm elections – and infuriate a former president they want to appease.
“I don’t think the extra external commission that the Democratic leaders want would uncover important new facts or promote healing,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, on the eve of the vote. “To be honest, I don’t think it’s designed for that.”
Although Mr McConnell said he would continue to support criminal proceedings against the rioters and stand by his “unabashed” criticism of Mr Trump, the Commission’s defeat will likely only encourage the former president once he has ramped up his baseless and debunked allegations. Republicans had already saved Trump from conviction in two impeachment proceedings.
Within a few months, his lies have distorted the views of many of his party’s supporters, who view President Biden as illegitimate. They have also resulted in a series of new election restrictions in Republican-led states and a grim recount in Arizona that has been denounced by both parties. And they have fueled the efforts of Republican Congressmen to contain and reshape the Capitol Rebellion as a harmless event resembling a “normal tourist visit.”
“People are just beginning to understand!” Mr Trump wrote in a statement on Thursday.
The Democrats condemned the vote and warned Republicans that preventing an independent investigation would not protect them from facing the impact of Mr Trump’s attacks on the democratic process.
Mr Schumer and spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi are now planning their own committee investigations into the attack, how it was coordinated and why the government failed to prevent an attack that left several dead, the Capitol and the people in it at risk.
Ms Pelosi could also set up a special committee that would focus solely on the attack, giving the Democrats unilateral subpoena powers and much longer time to investigate whatever they want. Schumer apparently backed the idea on Friday afternoon, saying it was “better to investigate with a special committee than not to investigate”.
Progressives used Republican opposition to the commission as a new justification to advance their arguments in favor of invoking the so-called nuclear option to recast the filibuster rule and allow laws to be passed by simple majority. Activists urged Democratic leaders to do so and then bypassed the Republican opposition to set pressing liberal priorities like full electoral law, gun control laws, legalizing undocumented immigrants, and more.
“If Republicans cannot agree to an independent commission investigating the first armed uprising in the Capitol in our nation’s history, then something is wrong,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. “And that something is the filibuster.”
However, changing the rules would require the approval of all 50 Democrats, and at least two oppose it. One of them, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, said his position was unchanged.
“I’m not ready to destroy our government, no,” he said.
Still, after an 11 hour scramble with Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to draft a compromise to address some of her party’s stated concerns about the legislation, Mr. Manchin concluded that most would not support her and were simply disingenuous Reasons passed through vote no.
“I am very, very disappointed, very frustrated that politics – literally and figuratively – has trumped the welfare of the country,” he told reporters after the vote.
The six Republican Senators who voted in the pre-launch debate on the commission included Ms. Collins, Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, Ms. Murkowski, Rob Portman from Ohio, Mitt Romney from Utah, and Ben Sasse from Nebraska. Everyone but Portman voted in an impeachment trial in February that Trump was found guilty of incitement to insurrection.
A seventh Republican, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, missed the vote – one of eleven Senators who did – but said he had voted in favor of a preliminary debate on the commission.
Mr Cassidy argued that his party was also making a strategic mistake in blocking the commission, prompting the Democrats to conduct partisan inquiries into the January 6th events “with or without Republicans”.
“To ensure that the investigation is fair, impartial and factual, Republicans need to be involved,” he said.
After his own flirtation with support for the bill, Mr. McConnell worked aggressively to suppress support. To convince his colleagues that, despite the bipartisan nature of the commission, the Democrats were acting maliciously, McConnell circulated one Interview with James Carville, the Democratic strategist, and urged his party to “make this insurrection their own every day for the Republicans”.
It was a marked change for Mr McConnell, reflecting how his political calculation has changed since January 6th. Despite making some of the sternest condemnations of his party in Trump’s attempt to undermine the election result, the minority leader now has a clear choice that the fate of his party – and his own – depends on leaving events firmly behind and the agenda of Attacking Mr. Biden.
By rejecting the commission, the Republicans resisted emotional appeals from those affected to drop their opposition. The mother and long-time friend of a Capitol policeman who died after clashing with the mob led a final emotional lobbying campaign on the eve of the vote, teaming up with policemen who had responded to the attack.
“I couldn’t stay calm anymore,” said Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died after the attack.
The group also included Michael Fanone, a Washington police officer who was brutally treated by rioters and pleaded with them to save his life, and Harry Dunn, a black Capitol police officer who was subjected to a series of racial slurs during the attack.
“It is very worrying that nobody wants to support this,” said Sandra Garza, the friend of Officer Sicknick. “Why shouldn’t you want to get to the bottom of this terrible violence?”
Emily Cochrane Reporting contributed.