May 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The Jan. 6 commission's Senate graveyard

Supporters of then-President Trump are seen in the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Trump supporters on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House vote on Wednesday to approve a Jan. 6 commission is a sugar high about to confront the reality of a Senate comedown.

What we're hearing: Axios spoke with a series of Republican senators and as of now, it's hard to see a plausible pathway to getting the necessary 10 GOP votes in the Senate to approve a panel. This, despite 35 Republican votes in favor in the House.

  • Most Senate Republicans embraced the cover Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave them early Wednesday during floor remarks.
  • He laid out the reasons why he opposes the bill, and members of his caucus adopted the talking points the rest of the day.
  • This is true even among some of the Republicans who voted to impeach former President Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection — such as Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).
  • Others, like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — all of whom also voted to convict Trump — are withholding judgment on a commission.

The main public argument against one: It would be duplicative of and distracting to other ongoing investigations being conducted by the FBI, Justice Department and congressional oversight committees.

  • Others say it will take too long to set it up, and an investigation will spill into 2022 — an election year.
  • A private argument is that it's going to be a political mess for the GOP and could jeopardize Senate seats next year.

Of course, this could all change, especially given the House support of the bill.

  • Just 41 GOP senators — the minimum needed to block approval — could force adjustments making it more palatable for them.

What the senators who voted to impeach Trump are saying:

  • Burr, who is retiring in 2023, told Axios he's against the commission. He "always believed that investigations were better focused within the committees of jurisdiction."
  • Sasse told Politico he's "reserving judgment," on how he'll vote but added: "A lot of the jabbering in the House — for and against this thing — seems like thinly veiled midterm strategy.”
  • Collins told reporters she would support a commission but thinks the House bill needs changes, such as ensuring both parties can hire commission staff, and a pledge to wrap up the investigation by the end of this year.
  • Romney said, “I'll look at the legislation and decide whether it's adequate and truly bipartisan. But I do support the object of the commission."

The bottom line: "I think the concern a lot of our members have is that it's just going to end up being used politically — politically weaponized — and that they'll try and drag it out to next year, so they can use it in election year," Senate GOP Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told Axios.

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