Senate Republicans block commission to study Capitol riot

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WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a bipartisan commission proposed to study the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

The Senate voted 54-35  to advance the measure, but it fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster, which would have blocked debate on the bill. The House had approved legislation to create the commission with support from 35 Republicans.

"I can't imagine anyone voting against the establishment of a commission on the greatest assault, since the Civil War, on the Capitol," President Joe Biden said Thursday in Cleveland. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the vote to focus the spotlight on Republicans who were reluctant to study what provoked the attack left five dead and 140 police officers injured.

"We have to investigate, expose and report on the truth. We need to establish a trusted record of what really transpired on Jan. 6 and the events that preceded it," Schumer said. "The truth of the matter seems to be that Senate Republicans oppose the commission because they fear that it might upset Donald Trump and their party's midterm messaging.

"Senate Republicans must decide if they are on the side of the truth or on the side of Donald Trump’s 'big lie.'"

White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said after the vote Friday that "members of the Senate aren't sent to Washington to rubber-stamp any party's views. They swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And today, unfortunately they failed to do that."

To hasten a vote on the commission, the Senate postponed votes to complete research-and-development legislation to counter China until June. Among its many facets, the measure would boost the semiconductor industry and spur efforts to compete better against China in science and technology. But the measure that enjoys broad bipartisan support became contentious because a handful of Republican senators sought amendments for issues such as better securing the southern border.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposed a commission to study the Jan. 6 riot and said the Justice Department is already prosecuting more than 400 suspects in the attack.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposed the commission. He said the Justice Department is already prosecuting 445 suspects in the attack, and more arrests are expected. Legislative committees already are holding hearings and drafting recommendations to prevent another attack, he said.

McConnell accused Democrats of wanting to relitigate Trump, who was impeached in the House and charged with inciting the insurrection. The Senate acquitted Trump.

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"Obviously the role of the former president has been litigated exhaustively – exhaustively – in the high-profile impeachment trial we had here in the Senate several months ago," McConnell said. “I do not believe the additional extraneous commission that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing."

Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska joined Democrats in supporting the commission.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said that the Justice Department could never share its information about the cases until they are prosecuted but that he would support a commission once those investigations are complete.

"As a practical matter, I don't think that we can do this thing until after a lot of those criminal probes are completed," Rounds said. "I still would like to see a commission go through, just for history's sake. I'd like to see it, but I think we're going to have to wait until after the criminal prosecutions are completed."

Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died of natural causes the day after he was sprayed with chemical spray in the attack, met Thursday with senators to urge a commission that would explain what happened. She was joined by D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone, who had a heart attack after being beaten by rioters, and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black and heard racial slurs during the attack.

"They put their lives on the line," said Sicknick, who called opposition to the commission "a slap in the face."

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., met with Sicknick for what he called a respectful conversation. But he opposed the commission because he expected partisan results.

"I'm not sure what other questions remain unanswered after all those investigations," Johnson said. "This would be a political commission. That's the bottom line here, and that's why I won't support it."

Romney said his meeting with Sicknick was a chance to express his condolences and "hear about the experiences of the two officers who were involved as well."

Murkowski said she shared "serious hugs" with Sicknick's relatives and the officers.

"I am heartsick that you feel that you need to come and advocate to members of Congress that we stand up and say, 'The truth is hard, but the truth is necessary,'" Murkowski said she told them.

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John Spacey

John Spacey