WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a House-passed bill to create a bipartisan commission to study the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The Senate vote was 54-35 — short of the 60 votes needed to consider the bill that would have formed a 10-member commission evenly split between the two parties. Lawmakers held the procedural vote Friday morning after delays on an unrelated bill to boost scientific research and development pushed back the schedule.
It’s now likely that questions about who should bear responsibility for the attack will continue to be filtered through a partisan lens rather than addressed by an independent panel modeled after the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
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. And former President Donald Trump, who still has a firm hold on the party, has called it a "Democrat trap."
The six Republican senators who voted to advance the bill were Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaksa, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Eleven senators — nine Republicans and two Democrats — missed the vote, an unusually high number of absentees for one of the highest-profile votes of the year. Some said they had scheduling conflicts.
The insurrection was the worst attack on the Capitol in 200 years and interrupted the certification of Biden's win over Trump.
Dozens of other police officers were injured as the rioters pushed past them, breaking through windows and doors and hunting for lawmakers. The protesters constructed a mock gallows in front of the Capitol and called for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, who was overseeing the certification of the presidential vote.
Four protesters died, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber with lawmakers still inside. 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.
Speaking to his Republican colleagues, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote they were "trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug" out of loyalty to Trump.
He left open the possibility of another vote in the future on establishing a bipartisan commission, declaring, "The events of Jan. 6 will be investigated."
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
This week, the family of the Capitol Police officer who died after the siege and other officers who battled rioters went office to office asking GOP senators to support the commission.
But the events of Jan. 6 have become an increasingly fraught topic 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.
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.
McConnell, who once said Trump was responsible for provoking the mob attack on the Capitol, said of Democrats, "They’d like to continue to litigate the former president, into the future."
Murkowski said previously that she would support the legislation because she needs to know more about what happened that day and why.
"Truth is hard stuff, but we’ve got a responsibility to it," she told reporters Thursday evening. "We just can’t pretend that nothing bad happened, or that people just got too excitable. Something bad happened. And it’s important to lay that out."
Of her colleagues opposing the commission, Murkowski said some are concerned that "we don’t want to rock the boat."
Almost five months later, the political arguments over the violent siege has frustrated but Democrats and those who fought off the rioters.
Michael Fanone, a Metropolitan Police Department officer who responded to the attack, said between meetings with Republican senators that a commission is "necessary for us to heal as a nation from the trauma that we all experienced that day." Fanone has described being dragged down the Capitol steps by rioters who shocked him with a stun gun and beat him.
Sandra Garza, the girlfriend 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."
"So I don’t understand why they would resist getting to the bottom of what happened that day and fully understanding how to prevent it. Just boggles my mind," she said.
Video of the rioting shows two men spraying Sicknick and another officer with a chemical, but the Washington medical examiner said he suffered a stroke and died from natural causes.
The Republican opposition to the bipartisan commission has also 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 need the support of 10 Republicans to move to the commission bill, sparking fresh debate over whether the time has come to change the rules and lower the threshold to 51 votes to take up the legislation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. It was reported from Cincinnati.