House Backs Jan. 6 Commission, but Senate Path Dims
WASHINGTON — A sharply divided House voted on Wednesday to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, overcoming opposition from Republicans determined to stop a high-profile accounting of the deadly pro-Trump riot.
But even as the legislation passed the House, top Republicans locked arms in an effort to doom it in the Senate and shield former President Donald J. Trump and their party from new scrutiny of their roles in the events of that day.
The 252-to-175 vote in the House, with four-fifths of Republicans opposed, pointed to the difficult path for the proposal in the Senate. Thirty-five Republicans bucked their leadership to back the bill.
The stated reasons for the GOP opposition to a 1/6 Commission are incoherent and implausible. Both Republican leaders denounced the commission as a partisan Democratic plot. McCarthy accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of not negotiating “in good faith” and wasting “time playing political games.” McConnell chimed in to accuse House Democrats of having “handled this proposal in partisan bad faith going back to the beginning.”
This will play well on Fox “News” but, like much of what the right says these days, it simply isn’t so. The bill to establish a January 6 commission was negotiated in good faith between Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and the ranking Republican member, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.).
The proposed version of the 1/6 Commission is scrupulously bipartisan with five members, including the chair, appointed by Democratic leaders, and five members, including the vice chair, appointed by Republican leaders. While the chairman would be allowed to appoint senior staff members and demand information from the federal government, the panel could only issue subpoenas if both the chair and vice chair agreed, or if a majority of the members voted to do so. The bill also set Dec. 31 as a deadline to issue a report — far too little time to litigate subpoenas if potential witnesses (such as Trump and McCarthy) refuse to voluntarily testify.
Even if this bill were passed — which now appears unlikely — it would have still allowed considerable room for Republican obstructionism if all of the GOP-appointed commissioners voted in lockstep. There would have been nothing to stop McCarthy and McConnell from appointing rabid Trumpkins for precisely this purpose. (Imagine if, say, former Trump White House aide Stephen Miller were the vice chair.)
The mother of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, met with Republican senators on Thursday to urge them to support a commission to investigate the attack.
Gladys Sicknick, Sandra Garza, who was Sicknick's longtime partner, and two police officers who faced the riot that day, traveled between Republican Senate offices to deliver their pleas ahead of a possible vote on the legislation on Thursday afternoon.
Gladys Sicknick said she could not remain quiet as it appears unlikely there will be enough support for the legislation to clear the 60-vote threshold the bill needs to overcome a Senate filibuster.
"You know, usually I'm staying in the background and I just couldn't, I couldn't stay quiet anymore," she told reporters following a meeting with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
Romney has said he will vote to allow the legislation to move forward. Two other Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have said they would as well.
At least seven additional Republicans are needed to avoid a filibuster. In a vote last week, 35 House Republicans backed the bill, which was negotiated by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and ranking member Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y.
The Senate could vote on the legislation as soon as Thursday but it may be delayed by consideration of a bill focused on China.
Brian Sicknick suffered two strokes one day after confronting rioters at the Capitol, with Washington D.C.'s chief medical examiner ruling last month that he died of natural causes. Roughly 140 officers were assaulted during the riot.
In a Wednesday statement to all GOP senators requesting a sit-down meeting, the late officer's mother said her son "died because of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol Building on January 6."
"He and his fellow officers fought for hours and hours against those animals who were trying to take over the Capitol building and our democracy, as we know it," she said. "While they were fighting, congressmen and senators were locking themselves inside their offices. According to some who were barricaded in their offices said it looked like tourists walking through the Capitol. Really?"
Earlier this month, a handful of House Republicans sought to minimize the riot, with Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., comparing it to a "normal tourist visit."
"Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day," Gladys Sicknick said. "Because of what they did, the people in the building were able to go home that evening and be with their families. Brian and many other officers ended up in the hospital. I suggest that all congressmen and senators who are against this bill visit my son’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery and, while there, think about what their hurtful decisions will do to those officers who will be there for them going forward."
"Putting politics aside, wouldn’t they want to know the truth of what happened on January 6?" she continued. "If not, they do not deserve to have the jobs they were elected to do.”
Republican leaders including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and former President Donald Trump all came out against the legislation. Some Republicans argued the commission would be used to hurt them in the midterm elections.
In announcing his opposition to the legislation for the 9/11-style commission last week, McConnell called it a "slanted and unbalanced proposal." On Tuesday, he described it as a "purely political exercise that adds nothing to the sum total of information."
Asked Thursday about what he would tell the fallen officer's mother when meeting with her, McConnell said: "The investigation of what happened is fully underway."
"The FBI is all over this, people are being arrested, numbers of additional people are likely to be indicted," he said of the more than 440 people who've already been charged in connection with the riot. "To avoid having this happened — this happened again in the future, both the Homeland Security Committee and the Rules Committee are coming up with a game plan to tell us exactly what we need to do to secure the Capitol and make sure it doesn’t happen again."
In a statement earlier Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said Republicans have "no excuse" to vote against the proposed commission because "Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for."
"Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections," Manchin, one of the Senate's most important swing votes, said. "They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear."
On Wednesday, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who earlier this month lost her leadership position after she continued to speak out about Trump's electoral falsehoods and argued against turning the page on the riot, offered a message of solidarity with the late officer's mother.