WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Friday blocked creation of a bipartisan panel to investigate the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, displaying continuing party loyalty to former President Donald Trump and firm determination to shift the political focus away from the violent insurrection by his GOP supporters.
The Senate vote was 54-35 — six short of the 60 needed — to take up a House-passed bill that would have formed an independent 10-member commission evenly split between the two parties. It came a day after emotional appeals for the commission from police who fought the mob, the family of an officer who died and lawmakers in both parties who fled Capitol chambers in the worst attack on the building in two centuries.
The Republicans were mostly but not totally united: Six voted with Democrats to move forward. 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. At least one of the missing Republicans would have voted in favor of considering the commission, according to his office.
The GOP opposition means that questions about who should bear responsibility for the attack could continue to be filtered through a partisan lens — in congressional committees — rather than addressed by an outside, independent panel modeled after the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“The investigations will happen with or without Republicans,” declared Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of the Republicans who voted to move forward. “To ensure the investigations are fair, impartial and focused on the facts, Republicans need to be involved.”
The vote was in part a GOP attempt to placate Trump, or avoid his reprisals, as he has kept a firm hold on the party since his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden. The former president told his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat before the siege and continues to falsely say he won the election — claims shouted by his supporters as they stormed the building. Trump called the commission legislation a “Democrat trap.”
Friday’s vote — the first successful use of a Senate filibuster in the Biden presidency — was emblematic of the profound mistrust between the two parties since the siege, especially among Republicans, with some in the party downplaying the violence and defending the rioters.
The vote also is likely to galvanize Democratic pressure to do away with the filibuster, a time-honored procedure typically used to kill major legislation. It requires 60 votes to move ahead, rather than a simple majority in the 100-member Senate. With the Senate evenly split 50-50, Democrats needed support from 10 Republicans to move to the commission bill.