WASHINGTON — The Senate could vote as early as next week on House-passed legislation to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But it’s unclear whether at least 10 Republican senators will support the bill, the threshold needed to move it forward. It could be the first bill this year to be blocked by a filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., began taking steps Wednesday to speed the bill to the floor, saying he intends to hold a vote after the House voted 252-175 to pass the legislation.
“My Senate Republican colleagues must now ask themselves: Are they going to join us in pursuing the truth, or are they going to cover for Donald Trump and his big lie?” Schumer said, without specifying when the vote would be.
Even though 35 House Republicans broke ranks to support the bill, an unusually high split, Senate GOP opposition grew after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky came out against it Wednesday, arguing that it is unnecessary because “strong existing investigations” are already underway in Congress and by the Justice Department.
McConnell’s remarks appeared to trigger a shift among his members.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said Tuesday that he was interested in a bipartisan commission because “we clearly had an insurrection on that particular day, and I don’t want it to be swept under any rug.” But after McConnell spoke, Rounds said Wednesday that he has similar concerns after having read the “fine print,” fretting that Democrats would have more power over staff appointments.
Republicans’ unease is driven by an uncomfortable fact for their party: The Capitol was ransacked by supporters of Trump, who sought to disrupt the presidential vote count and prevent his defeat from being cemented.
Having left office, Trump has solidified his position as the leader of the Republican Party, and he continues to falsely insist that the election was stolen from him. In surveys, large numbers of self-identified Republicans say they believe his fabricated claims that widespread fraud cost him the presidency.
Lawmakers who voted to impeach him or who have debunked his falsehoods, like Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., have paid a price.
McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., risk the wrath of Trump if they give the imprimatur of bipartisanship to a commission that uncovers unflattering facts about him or his supporters. They also fear that the issue would distract from their goal of winning control of the House and the Senate in the midterm elections next year.
Trump released a statement Thursday attacking “35 wayward Republicans” who voted for the House bill and hinting at consequences from voters.
“Democrats stick together, the Republicans don’t. They don’t have the Romney’s, Little Ben Sasse’s, and Cheney’s of the world. Unfortunately, we do,” he said, referring to Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who have been critical of him. “Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak. The voters understand!”
The legislation was negotiated by Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of Homeland Security Committee, and John Katko, R-N.Y., the committee’s ranking member. It would create an independent commission of members appointed equally by the two parties, a Republican demand that Democrats agreed to.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is retiring and voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges, said Thursday that he opposes the bill because Senate committees are already investigating the riot.
“These investigations are being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course,” he said. “I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, appeared undecided, telling reporters: “I want to see what the scope is.”
Romney and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have said they support the idea of a bipartisan commission. But they haven’t said how they would vote if the House bill were to come up in the Senate.
Blocking the legislation could give ammunition to Democrats who want to abolish the supermajority rule and allow bills to advance with simple majorities.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said that he remains optimistic about the bill and that there’s a “very, very good chance we’re going to pass it.” He was skeptical that revisions are needed.
“The House bill made all the accommodations to the Republicans over there anyway,” he told reporters. “How much more can we do?”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she would be disappointed if the GOP prevents the independent commission from being formed after it was crafted to address their demands.
Asked what would happen next if the bill is filibustered, she said: “I don’t think that’s clear.”
And the No. 2 Senate Republican said the outcome is still uncertain.
“I think our members are in different places. So we’re continuing the discussion,” said Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, who said he was still reviewing the bill. “Thirty-five votes in the House — it’s not a lot, but it’s a significant number of Republicans.”