Facing GOP Blockade, Frustrated Senate Dems Warm To House Going It Alone On Jan. 6 Probe

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: Temporary security fencing surrounds the U.S. Capitol on April 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
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June 9, 2021 7:00 a.m.

Senate Democrats, still acutely burned after their Republican peers sunk the bipartisan bill to set up a January 6 commission, are now left with the consolation prize of a Senate report far too narrow to plumb the depths of the insurrection and the factors that caused it. 

That was less a failing of the report than inherent in its mission, they told TPM.

“This is very focused on what are the security needs of the Capitol in light of the failures of January 6 not, you know, why was there a domestic insurrection to overthrow the government of the United States — that was not the purpose,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told TPM. 

“It’s valuable, but it’s not a replacement for an independent commission,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). 

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Back in late May, Senate Republicans used the legislative filibuster to block the commission, which was enshrined in bipartisan legislation written by House Homeland Security committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and ranking member John Katko (R-NY). Despite the awkwardness of GOP leaders disavowing a bill written and championed by one of their own, both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) came out against it as the votes crept closer, and now spin the bill as a partisan product of Democratic leadership. 

Democratic congressional leaders haven’t settled on a way forward, though they uniformly say that further investigation is necessary. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) urged the Senate to bring up the commission bill for another vote, something Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has not ruled out. 

But one obvious alternative, now that President Joe Biden has nixed the idea of setting up a presidential commission, would be for Pelosi to set up a select committee and pass it through the House. While Democrats publicly long for a bipartisan investigation, some are warming to the House route after Republicans made clear they would not support an independent effort. 

“I’d like to see the commission,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told TPM. But, she added, “that’s apparently not gonna happen.” 

Reports like the one the Senate released Tuesday “are really well done as far as what law enforcement people were supposed to be doing, but we need to find out what the causes might be,” Hirono said. “So if the only way we can do that is through a select committee, then that’s what we should do.” 

Some said they approve of the re-vote idea Pelosi floated — another attempt to pass the bipartisan bill — but acknowledge that it’s hard to come up with the last few Republican names who’d support it. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) named Toomey and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the only Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump the second time who did not vote to break the filibuster on the commission bill. But even if Burr switched his vote, the supermajority required by the filibuster demands two more Republicans. 

“Let’s just say that fails,” Casey told TPM of the re-vote. “I still think there’s a need for some kind of thorough review even if people were accusing it of being labeled as a partisan report — I think plenty of Republicans want to find out what happened as well.” 

“I’m shocked that we’re not having a bipartisan commission, but the Republicans don’t want to do it,” Kaine said, adding that he “absolutely” would support a House select committee at this point. 

The downfalls of a “partisan” House select committee, even one staffed with some Republicans, are obvious: Republican leadership would write it off as a Democratic witch hunt and disregard its findings. But a truly bipartisan investigation seems remote given that Trump and his allies were so implicated in fomenting the riot, and the majority of congressional Republicans have arrived at the conclusion that any such probe would only hurt their political prospects.

Some Democrats are left holding out hope for a future that seems unlikely: Republicans to disentangle themselves from the former President and to stop acting in his best interests. 

“As circumstances change, people’s opinions sometimes change,” Merkley told TPM of the prospect of voting on the commission bill again. “As long as my colleagues are bowing at the Trump altar, it probably won’t pass, but when they regain their senses and free themselves from that addiction, then perhaps we can pass it.” 

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