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Why Did the January 6th Commission Bill Fail in the Senate?

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Today, the Senate held the decisive procedural vote regarding the bill that was passed by the House of Representatives commission aimed at investigating the Capitol riots of January 6th. The bill failed to garner the necessary 60 votes to survive the Fillibuster that was implemented by GOP Senators, with the January 6th Commission Bill Defeated the question now is if Democrats would push for a more partisan investigation or if the January 6th riot would fall below the radar of the US Congress.

The final tally of the procedural vote to approve cloture (the mechanism to lift a filibuster) fell 6 votes short of the 3/5 majority needed, with only 4 Republican Senators voting for the measure: Mitt Romney (R-UT), Liza Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Rob Portman (R-OH), while nine GOP and two Democratic lawmakers missed the vote.

The Senate voted down a bill that would set up a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th riots (EFE)

The bill, which was negotiated by Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and John Katko (R-NY), passed the House earlier last week with the support of all Democratic lawmakers and 35 GOP Representatives, despite the open rebuke the bill received by the congressional leadership of the Republican Party.

However, the bill faced little chances to get through the upper chamber of Congress as the top Republican in that chamber, Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-KY), had publicly called against the measure. This meant that for the bill to pass, 10 Senators would have to go directly against that the official line of the party, a tall order indeed.

Both McConnell and Kevin McCarthy opposed the probe because they said the commission would be a partisan exercise by the Democratic party, with McCarthy calling it a “counterproductive effort” that was fueled by “political misdirections” and McConnell said the commission will not “uncover” any new facts about what happened that day that would not have been discovered by the current congressional and federal investigations.

The committee itself, however, was negotiated by both a Republican and Democrat representative. It would form a panel with equal representation for each party (5 each), with a Democrat being the Chair and a Republican being the vice-chair, the bill also laid out that subpoenas could only be issued with the agreement of both parties, and it also set a deadline for the Commission to release its report on December 31st.

Some Republican Senators have opposed McConnell’s approach to the Commission, with Senator Sasse (one of the seven Senators who voted to convict Trump) saying that “the investigations will happen with or without Republicans” which is why it is crucial to ensure there will be some republican participation in the investigation itself, instead of allowing Democrats to lead the narrative with a purely partisan select committee.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposed the bill (Photo: Mitch McConnell by Gage Skidmore| Flickr| CC BY-SA 4.0))

This reasoning seemed to have been validated with the declarations of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who said that while he would have preferred the investigation to be done via a bipartisan committee he would rather “investigate with a select committee than not investigate” he also seized the moment and call the vote a proof that “Donald Trump’s Big Lie is now the defining principle of what was once the Party of Lincoln”.

Why did it fail?

There are three main reasons why the January 6th commission did not come to fruition: issues with the language of the bill, midterm calculations, and concerns over the ability of the GOP to stay united for 2022.

Let’s quickly go for the first. Although the bill clearly defines a bipartisan commission very similar to that of 9/11, there was one issue with the language of the bill that scared some Republicans, the hiring of staff. The bill states that the staff director could be hired by the chairperson (a Democrat) “in consultation” with the vice-chair, which left the door open that the chair could hire someone despite the objections of the Republican members.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said she wanted to negotiate this part of the bill, changing the language to ensure that both the Democratic chair and the Republican vice-chair would jointly select the staff forming the commission. Her efforts, however, were insufficient and the bill failed in the floor of the Senate.

The second issue is the simplest one to understand, creating a commission exclusively dedicated to the January 6th riots would surely grab the attention of the media, bringing back the issue in the minds of the voters, which could both energize the Democratic base for the 2022 midterms and make some Republican-leaning voters who are skeptical of Trump to rebuke the party ahead of the election.

Additionally, the prospect of having Democrats pressuring key GOP leaders (like Kevin McCarthy or Mike Pence) to testify over what happened on January 6th would have also brought some electoral headaches for the GOP.

However, the sinking of the January 6th commission bill does not mean there will not be a Congressional investigation, it only means that Democrats will now have full justification to launch a completely partisan investigation which will now have full attention from the media.

While Republicans could have played a role in avoiding the January 6th commission becoming a political circus, now they have surrendered any option at that and Democrats will have all the power to create a really partisan investigation committee.

Then, why did Republicans vote to shut the bill down? Well, one possibility is that by voting the bill down and making the ensuing committee a partisan affair, Republicans would have not been dragged into an internal fight with Trump supporters about their role in the investigation.

The January 6th Commission bill would have created an opportunity of a new fight within the GOP over the riot (EFE)

Had the committee succeeded, it is highly likely that Trump would have ratchet out support against the commission. Which would endanger those Republicans who voted for the bill as they could have been challenged in primaries, it would also fit perfectly on Trump’s narrative that the party leadership is composed by “RINOs” who were weak and did not support him on his efforts to overturn the election on January 6th.

A bipartisan commission then, would unavoidable pit the GOP congressional establishment in a collision path with Trump just ahead of the 2022 election cycle, and the results of such a clash would be far too unpredictable to ponder. The GOP could lose its chance to win back Congress, while Trump could use the commission as another litmus test on GOP politicians, endangering the already complicated unity of the Republican Party.

Hence, the easiest path for the GOP would be to fight the select committee as a purely partisan process, taking away some of its legitimacy while murky the waters on the committee’s job and avoid any messy inner fight between Republicans.

The November election happened six months ago, however, the aftermath is still causing headaches for Congressional Republicans.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.