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GOP senators block bipartisan commission into Capitol riot

Six Republicans back probe, but rest of party votes to torpedo formation of panel looking into deadly January 6 attack, with many lawmakers still in thrall of Trump

In this file photo from Jan. 6, 2021, Trump supporters beset a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
In this file photo from Jan. 6, 2021, Trump supporters beset a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 an overtly political effort to shift the 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. And Trump, who still has a firm hold on the party, has called it a “Democrat trap.”

The vote is emblematic of the profound 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.

In this May 26, 2021, photo, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves a GOP lunch at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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.

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.”

Six Republicans voted to advance the commission: Senators 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. Portman was the only one of them not to vote to find Trump guilty of inciting the insurrection at his impeachment trial in February.

US President Donald Trump speaks at a rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, shortly before the mob assault on the US Capitol. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

“Truth is hard stuff, but we’ve got a responsibility to it,” Murkowski 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.”

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 need support of 10 Republicans to move to the commission bill.

The Republicans’ political arguments over the violent siege — which is still raw for many in the Capitol, almost five months later — have frustrated not only Democrats but also those who fought off the rioters.

Gladys Sicknick, center, mother of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died from injuries sustained during the Jan. 6 mob attack on Congress, leaves a meeting with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin after advocating for creation of an independent commission to investigate the assault, at the Capitol in Washington on May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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 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.”

“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.

In this May 26, 2021, photo, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Garza attended the meetings with Sicknick’s mother, Gladys Sicknick. In a statement Wednesday, Mrs. Sicknick suggested the opponents of the commission “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.”

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.

“We have a mob overtake the Capitol, and we can’t get the Republicans to join us in making historic record of that event? That is sad,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “That tells you what’s wrong with the Senate and what’s wrong with the filibuster.”

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.

Sen. Mitt Romney at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

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.

Biden, asked about the commission at a stop in Cleveland, said Thursday, “I can’t imagine anyone voting against” it.

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.

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