Republicans block commission into 6 January attack on Congress

A vote on the creation of an independent panel to investigate the circumstance of the Capitol Hill insurrection ended in defeat for the Democrats, with just six Republicans crossing the aisle.

Republicans block commission into 6 January attack on Congress
Drew Angerer AFP

In a Senate vote on Friday Republican lawmakers blocked the establishment of an independent commission into the 6 January insurrection. The Senate GOP used their filibuster power to prevent a full inquisition into the events surrounding the attack on the Capitol, which left five people dead.

The final vote was 54 to 35, falling short of the 60-vote supermajority required to overrule the filibuster. Only six Republican senators voted in favour of creating the commission, underlining once again the sway which former President Donald Trump holds over the party.

Democrats fail to convince Republicans that a commission is needed

At the time, the 6 January attack was seen as a watershed moment in the relationship between the former President and his party after pro-Trump mobs stormed the Capitol. However after being initially admonished by senior Republican figures, Trump remains a key voice in the GOP and has met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy many times in the months since leaving office.

With this in mind the Democrats faced a difficult battle to encourage Republican senators to vote for the independent commission, which would likely have examined Trump’s role in the violence. They needed ten Republicans to cross the floor and vote for the proposal but fell short of that figure.

The only GOP senators to do so were Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. In total 11 senators were not present for the vote, of which one Republican, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, said he would have voted in favour of establishing the commission.

Senator Murkowski was particularly vocal in her public comments on the commission, accusing her GOP colleagues of “making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us, on January 6, I think we need to look at that critically.”

What would an independent commission into the Capitol Hill attack have looked like?

The proposal put before the Senate included a detailed rundown of how the commission would have unfolded with specifics about the structure of the investigation. Here’s what we know about how this independent commission would have been formed:

  • In order to ensure the commission acts in a bipartisan manner, Democratic and Republican leaders in both the House and in the Senate would have split selection of the 10-member panel between them.
  • Potential witnesses would only have been compelled to provide testimony if the majority of commission members agree to it. Alternatively, a subpoena could also be issued under joint agreement from the chairperson (Democrat) and the vice-chairperson (Republican).
  • The final report was due to be submitted by the end of 2021, with the commission itself to be dissolved 60 days after.