Capitol riot commission faces possible defeat in Senate amid GOP concerns it will become ‘political weapon’

WASHINGTON – The proposed commission to study the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6 could be scuttled as early as Thursday in the Senate, as Democrats press for a bipartisan review of the attack while Republicans worry it will be used as a weapon against them in the 2022 election.

To overcome a potential GOP filibuster of legislation creating the commission, Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to join them in limiting debate on the measure.

But opinion is divided even among the seven Republicans who voted to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting the insurrection. After the House impeached him, the Senate acquitted him.

Two of those seven Republicans — Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have said they will support the commission.

Related: Capitol Police union warns of departures after Jan. 6 riot and continued overtime strain

But Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., opposes setting up a commission because legislative committees are already reviewing the attack and drafting recommendations to prevent another one.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has proposed potential changes in how the commission staff is chosen and a firmer deadline for a commission report, in an effort at compromise. But other Republicans have said the changes aren’t enough to win support.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said he is undecided as he awaits the final version. He noted that Republican leaders are worried about the commission becoming a political weapon, but he also said Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., could simply appoint special committees to study the attack if they wanted a partisan result.

“So it seems like in that regard, this would be a better approach,” Cassidy said of the commission that the House approved with 35 Republican votes.

“I’ll reserve judgment till I see what the final bill looks like,” Cassidy added.

The legislation calls for a bipartisan commission to study what provoked the attack that temporarily halted the counting of Electoral College votes and left five dead and 140 police officers injured.

Related: House chairman proposes $1.9B emergency spending for Capitol security after Jan. 6 riot

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., set up a vote as early as Thursday, saying it would put Republicans on record for history to judge.

A vote to move forward on the legislation would require 60 senators to overcome a potential filibuster, so Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to join them.

“I so respect our two Republican colleagues on the other side of the aisle who will say they will vote for this proposal. I hope many more will,” Schumer said. “Each member of the senate is going to have to stand up and decide. Are you on the side of truth and accountability, or are you on the side of Donald Trump and the Big Lie?”

Republicans worry commission would be 2022 weapon

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposed the commission as “slanted and unbalanced.” The Justice Department is prosecuting 445 people for crimes related to Jan. 6. Two Senate committees are already developing bipartisan recommendations to avoid another attack.

McConnell argued Tuesday that Democrats were trying to litigate former President Donald Trump, after impeaching him twice already.

“I think this is a purely political exercise that adds nothing to sum total of information,” McConnell said. “All of these aspects of it are being dealt with in one way or another already.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he couldn’t see how the commission would finish its work by the end of the year, so that it would become a tool during the election year.

“It seems to me that people are already playing it as a political weapon,” he said.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate whose job is to count votes, called the Collins proposal a step in the right direction.

“Right now, all we know is what we have, and that’s the House passed bill, and there are a number of flaws in it,” Thune said.

House vote authorizes commission for Jan. 6 Capitol riot probe, 35 Republicans approve (Photo: GETTY)

Democrats have argued that a commission is necessary because some Republicans dispute the severity of the attack. The commission is modeled after the one that studied the terrorist hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, with a goal toward preventing another attack.

“Since Jan. 6th, Donald Trump and all too many Republicans have tried to spread the Big Lie, to say that the election was stolen, to say that the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6th was merely a peaceful protest that got out of hand,” Schumer said. “We all know what it was. It was an attack on our democracy. And this commission is needed to get the truth of how it happened.”

The 10-member commission would have half its members appointed by Democratic congressional leaders and half by Republicans. If approved, it:

  • Would study the facts and circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 attack and what provoked it.
  • Would be appointed with five members from Democrats and five from Republicans. Commissioners are expected to have expertise in law enforcement, civil rights and intelligence.
  • Could issue subpoenas to secure information, with approval required by a majority of commission members or by agreement between the Democratic chairman and Republican vice chairman.
  • Produce a final report by Dec. 31.

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