Politics & Policy

Republican Senators Block Bill to Form Capitol Riot Commission

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a news conference with fellow Republican senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 25, 2021. (Erin Scott/ Reuters)

A bill to form a commission tasked with investigating the January 6 Capitol riot will not move forward after the measure failed to reach the 60 votes required to advance.

The legislation failed in a 54–35 vote as Senate Republicans used their filibuster power for the first time since President Biden took office. Just six Republicans voted to advance the bill: Senators Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Lousiania, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Eleven senators missed the vote, including Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), Mike Braun (R., Ind.), Richard Burr (R., N.C.), Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), Patty Murray (D., Wash.), Jim Risch (R., Idaho), Mike Rounds (R., S.D.), Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.).

The filibuster, once deployed, must garner the votes of 60 senators to end debate and move forward with the bill. Given that the Senate is evenly spit 50–50 between the parties, Democrats had the burden of securing ten additional Republican votes to advance the legislation.

Democrats have expressed disdain for the commission’s lack of popularity among Senate Republicans, claiming the issue should earn unanimous bipartisan support.

“We have a mob overtake the Capitol, and we can’t get the Republicans to join us in making historic record of that event? That is sad,” said Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest-ranking Democrat. “That tells you what’s wrong with the Senate and what’s wrong with the filibuster.”

Republican critics of the commission have argued that its focus should be broader and examine the political violence that took place at Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.

The GOP’s collective decision comes amid calls from some Democrats to abolish the filibuster as an institution or amend its rules to lower the threshold to begin the legislative process. The House already passed the proposal with a number of Republicans departing from expectations for their party to approve it.

“There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against this commission,” said Senator Joe Manchin, who supports the panel but also wants to protect the filibuster from Democrats’ attempts to abolish it.

Ahead of the vote, Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski were the only Republicans to come out in support of the commission. Moderate Republican senator Susan Collins had indicated willingness to accept an amended version of the House legislation and said she was working to bring Republicans to compromise.

“I want to see a commission,” Collins said Wednesday. “I am working very hard to secure Republican votes.”

“What we want is closure,” Murkowski said Wednesday.

Collins’s revision addressed some Republican concerns with the original bill, requiring the Democratic-appointed chair and the Republican vice chair of the panel to “jointly appoint” staff. Her amendment would also shut down the commission 30 days after a final report is released, instead of 60 days.

However, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the bill as a “purely political exercise” and doesn’t believe the commission should survive, discouraging fellow Republicans from backing it.

“They’d like to continue to litigate the former president, into the future,” McConnell said, referring to Democrats’ persistence on the panel.

Former president Donald Trump has slammed the commission to probe the facts and events surrounding and preceding the January 6 insurrection, claiming the Republican defectors are betraying the interests of their party and constituents for a “witch hunt.”

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