Republicans in the US Senate have thwarted efforts to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 assault on the US Capitol, in a vote that was the latest evidence of Donald Trump’s enduring influence in his party.
Only six Republican senators voted for legislation to create the body modelled after the 9/11 Commission to probe how a pro-Trump mob stormed the building that houses Congress.
Friday’s vote for the commission was split, 54-35, with 11 senators abstaining — nine of the abstentions were Republicans, two were Democrats. The six Republicans to support the measure were Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Rob Portman of Ohio, who joined the Democratic-led effort.
But the motion failed because Democrats were unable to break the so-called “filibuster”, an arcane Senate rule that requires most legislation to garner the support of at least 60 lawmakers in the 100-member upper chamber of Congress.
The vote underscored Trump’s strong grip on his party even as he maintains a relatively low public profile since leaving office earlier this year. The former president, who has not ruled out running for the White House again in 2024, has vowed to begin holding rallies for his fans in several key swing states as soon as next month.
Democrats have for months championed a commission to probe what happened on January 6, when mobs of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, threatened the lives of lawmakers and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. The riots left five people, including a Capitol police officer, dead.
But Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have pushed back against a backdrop of opposition from Trump and his allies. Republican lawmakers are also concerned that focusing too much on the former president will hurt the party’s chances at the ballot box in next year’s midterm elections, when control of the House of Representatives and the Senate will be up for grabs.
“They would like to continue to litigate the former president into the future,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, said earlier this week, in reference to his Democratic counterparts.
“We think the American people, going forward, and in the fall of ‘22, ought to focus on what this administration is doing to the country, and what the clear choice is that we have made to oppose most of these initiatives,” he added.
But McConnell has attracted sharp criticism from members of his own party, including Murkowski, who told reporters on Capitol Hill late Thursday that some of her colleagues “don’t want to rock the boat” with Trump, who continues to spread the falsehood that the presidential election was rigged against him.
“We just can’t pretend that nothing bad happened, or that people just got too excitable. Something bad happened, and it’s important to lay that out,” Murkowski said.
In a swipe at McConnell, she added: “To be 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.”
Murkowski is one of a handful of Republican lawmakers who have emerged as vocal critics of the former president. In the House, Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman and daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney, was ousted from her leadership role earlier this month over her rejection of the former president.