WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Friday blocked the creation of a bipartisan panel to study the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, refusing to back down on their opposition to the independent investigation even amid emotional appeals from those who fought with and fled from the rioters that day.
The Senate vote was 54-35, short of the 60 votes needed to consider a House-passed bill that would have formed a 10-member commission evenly split between the two parties. The vote was another sign of GOP fealty to former President Donald Trump and a political effort to shift focus off of the violent insurrection of his supporters.
Though the Jan. 6 commission bill passed the House earlier this month with the support of almost three dozen Republicans, GOP senators said they believe the commission would eventually be used against them politically. Trump, who still has a firm hold on the party, has called it a “Democrat trap.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was one of six Republicans who voted with Democrats to advance the bill. She had been trying to convince colleagues to go along with a slightly altered version that would ensure the Republican vice chair of the commission would have say over staffing that was equal to the Democratic chair and wind the panel down earlier.
“It is unfortunate that we fell a few votes short of what was needed to begin debate on this vital legislation needed to help us better understand that terrible day,” she said in a statement.
The vote is emblematic of the mistrust between the two parties since the siege, especially among Republicans, as some in the party have downplayed the violence and defended the rioters who supported Trump and his false insistence that the election was stolen from him.
Four people died in the riot, and a police officer collapsed and died afterward of what authorities said were natural causes. Two police officers took their own lives in the days after the riots. The vote came after Sicknick’s mother, girlfriend and two police officers who fought the rioters went office to office and asked Republicans to support the commission.
While initially saying he was open to the idea of the commission, which would be modeled after an investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell turned firmly against it in recent days. He has said he believes the panel’s investigation would be partisan despite the even split among party members.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Thursday evening that she needs to know more about what happened that day and why. Of her colleagues opposing the commission, Murkowski said some are concerned that “we don’t want to rock the boat.”
GOP opposition to the bipartisan panel has revived Democratic pressure to do away with the filibuster, a time-honored Senate tradition that requires a vote by 60 of the 100 senators to cut off debate and advance a bill. With the Senate evenly split 50-50, Democrats needed the support of 10 Republicans to move to the commission bill.
Sandra Garza, the partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who collapsed and died after battling the rioters, said of the Republican senators, “You know they are here today and with their families and comfortable because of the actions of law enforcement that day.”
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in a statement, “When people are moving heaven and earth to block an investigation, you’ve got to ask what it is they’re afraid will be revealed.”
Many Democrats are warning that if Republicans are willing to use the filibuster to stop an arguably popular measure, it shows the limits of trying to broker compromises, particularly on bills related to election reforms or other aspects of the Democrats’ agenda.
For now, though, Democrats don’t have the votes to change the rule. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, both moderate Democrats, have said they want to preserve the filibuster.
Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who once supported the idea of the commission, said he now believes Democrats are trying to use it as a political tool.
“I don’t think this is the only way to get to the bottom of what happened,” Cornyn said, noting that Senate committees are also looking at the siege.
Story by Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro. Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Colleen Long and Padmananda Rama and BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.