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Republicans just showed the grieving mother of a fallen officer that they’ll only back the blue when it’s politically convenient.
Senate Republicans voted to block the creation of an independent commission to investigate what happened in D.C. on January 6, ignoring pleas to support it from the mother and the longtime girlfriend of Capitol Hill officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the Capitol riot, as well as two officers who put their lives on the line to protect the lawmakers from the pro-Trump mob.
The final vote was 54-35, short of the 60-vote threshold needed to pass. This marked the first time in the Biden administration that Republicans have actively voted to filibuster a bill—and they used it to block the creation of a bipartisan commission at President Trump’s behest.
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who has refused to say that President Biden legitimately won the election, was one of almost a dozen Senate Republicans who’d met with Sicknick’s mother Thursday. He claimed the meeting went “really well.”
“We had a really respectful conversation. I think Mrs. Sicknick understands how deeply sympathetic I am for her loss,” Johnson said. “I want those same questions answered. I think we’ll get most of those answers with current investigations.”
Gladys Sicknick, whose son died of a stroke the night after he helped fight off the pro-Trump mob, doesn’t exactly feel the same way.
“Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day,” she said in a statement before her Capitol Hill meetings. “I suggest that all congressmen and senators who are against this bill 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.”
“I just couldn’t stay quiet anymore,” she told reporters as she walked between meetings.
Even mister bipartisan, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, had harsh words for his Republican colleagues.
“There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against this commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for,” Manchin said in a blunt statement Thursday. “Sen. Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”
While House Democrats had initially proposed a more partisan framework, good-faith bipartisan negotiations on the House side had led to a compromise in which Republicans got nearly everything they’d demanded. That agreement was supported by New York Rep. John Katko, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. Katko had the rug pulled out from under him when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to protect President Trump instead of agree to the deal he’d demanded.
That’s because Trump had railed against the commission in public and private, calling it a “Democratic trap” in a statement before the House vote.
Even after that, 35 House Republicans supported the legislation—an unusually strong show of bipartisan support in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere.
A majority of Republicans simply refused to take yes for an answer, however. The commission was modeled closely on the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan effort to get to the bottom of how the September 11, 2001 attacks had happened and what needs to be done to prevent future attacks. Democrats had given them basically everything they’d demanded in the bill, including equal representation on the panel and an ability to block and subpoenas they didn’t want to see. But as Trump raged against the commission, many found new excuses not to support it.
“This vote has made it official. Donald Trump's Big Lie has now fully enveloped the Republican Party,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor immediately after the vote.
Senate Republicans couldn’t even get their specific objections straight. Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun told reporters that he might be open to the commission if it would wrap up by “the end of the year.” When a reporter pointed out that the commission included a Dec. 31 deadline, he pivoted to say he wanted an even “tighter timeframe.”
North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis argued the opposite: That Congress should wait until other investigations conclude to see what information could be gleaned.
“It can take six months to get just a baseline of staff available. And then if you have an artificial deadline, to me, that doesn't make sense,” he told VICE News.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins made a last-minute push for more concessions in exchange for support, with the key piece of giving Republicans and Democrats equal say on hiring commission staff. But while multiple more establishment-leaning Republicans said they liked that idea, none said it would win their vote.
Republicans repeatedly claimed the commission was a partisan affair. But numerous lawmakers couldn’t explain what changes it would take to get them to support a commission, with some falling back on claims that there were already enough people looking into what happened.
Only six Senate Republicans voted for the commission: Collins, Murkowski, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. Portman was the only one to back the commission who'd voted against impeaching Trump in February, while North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, both of whom are retiring and voted for impeachment, didn't vote on the commission.
“The attack on the building was a very severe attack in democracy and is having shockwaves around the world and will change the trajectory in the world with regards to authoritarianism versus democracy,” he told VICE News.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that he had no interest in digging further into what happened on January 6. He pushed Republican senators hard to oppose the commission, worried it could hurt the party’s chances of winning back the Senate in 2022.
“There’s no new fact about that day we need the Democrats’ extraneous commission to uncover,” McConnell claimed on the Senate floor Thursday, arguing that Trump’s role had already been litigated in his second impeachment trial in the Senate and saying the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation, which has yielded more than 400 arrests, was sufficient to uncover the crimes of the case.
But it’s still unclear exactly what President Trump did between his speech, where he whipped tens of thousands of supporters into a frenzy, and the end of the riot. The troops that finally reinforced Capitol police and ended the riot weren’t authorized by Trump, but it’s unclear what exactly he refused to do on that day or whether he’d intentionally delayed their deployment.
There are multiple ongoing House and Senate investigations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the Department of Justice, continues to make arrests. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also suggested that she’d empanel a special commission to look into the attacks if Republicans blocked the independent, bipartisan commission.
But an independent commission is treated as the gold standard by lawmakers, and its findings can’t be dismissed as easily as partisan committees. In blocking this maneuver, Republicans took one more step to ensure that the simple facts of Trump’s attacks will remain up for partisan debate, with their side able to deny the reality of what happened on January 6.