DYears before the Senate rejected the creation of a 9/11-style commission to investigate the attack on Capitol Hill, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was adamant: He would oppose the bill, regardless of the amendments, and he hoped his colleagues would follow suit.
The commission that would likely have found Donald Trump and some Republicans responsible for the insurrection posed an existential threat to the GOP before the midterm elections, he said, and would complicate efforts to regain a majority in Congress.
McConnell’s sharp warning in a closed-door meeting had the desired effect on Friday, when Senate Republicans largely opted to stay with the Senate minority leader. All but six voted to block the commission and prevent a complete surrender of the events of January 6.
But he also underscored the alarm that gripped McConnell and the Senate Republican leadership in the tense political moments leading up to the vote, and how they exploited fears within the GOP of running into a fickle former president to galvanize opposition to the commission.
The story of how Republicans undermined an investigation into one of the darkest days for American democracy: Five people were killed when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and tried to hang Mike Pence, is reported by eight House aides and the Senate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The prospect of a commission crumbles
Surrounded by shards of broken glass on Capitol Hill on the night of January 6, and as House Democrats drafted articles of impeachment against Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made her first approach to probe the prospect of a commission to investigate the attack.
In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, Pelosi had reason to be hopeful. Spurred by the threat many Republicans felt to their personal safety, a growing group of lawmakers had begun agitating an investigation to reveal how Trump did nothing to stop the unrest.
But what was once heralded as a necessary step to “investigate and report” on the attack and interference in election proceedings was undone shortly thereafter, and the commission was quickly reduced to a bitter point of partisan contention in a deeply divided Capitol. .
The main objection from House and Senate Republicans, at first, centered on the uneven structure of Pelosi’s initial proposal, which would have seen a majority of Democrat-appointed members also having unilateral subpoena power. .
And just weeks after the riots, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was already filing his latest opposition’s complaint – that the commission’s scope did not include the unrelated far-left violence of the summer. past, a political priority that stalled talks.
With little progress three months after the Capitol attack, Pelosi made a renewed effort to establish a commission on April 16, launching a revised proposal that mirrored the original September 11 commission with the panel evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Pelosi briefed her leadership team, which included House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, and in particular the Chairman of the House Majority Committee. House Homeland Security Bennie Thompson on the proposal as follows Monday.
During that meeting, Hoyer first raised the possibility of extending the same subpoena power to Republicans as well, a concession that would allow Democrats to comply with all Republican demands on the structure of the commission, which Pelosi adopted a few days later.
In the penultimate week of April, Pelosi had delegated Thompson to lead the talks because she felt the national security committee was an appropriate place and because the committee’s top Republican, John Katko, was one of only three Republican members of the committee. House of Representatives to impeach Trump.
With the House in recess, Thompson made enough progress in the negotiations to inform Pelosi and her leadership team on May 8 that she reached a tentative agreement in committee, although Katko wanted to wait for an announcement until Liz Cheney was removed as president. of the republican conference.
Tensions within the Republican House of Representatives conference had reached new highs the previous week after Cheney continued his months-long criticism of Trump’s lies about a stolen election at a party retreat in Florida, and Katko showed herself Cautious when it comes to injecting the commission into the loaded moment.
“As soon as Liz Cheney is voted on, you will be prepared to make a joint statement,” Thompson said in remarks first reported by CNN.
Minutes after House Republicans elevated Elise Stefanik to the new GOP conference chair on May 14, Thompson and Katko unveiled their proposal for a September 11-style bipartisan commission.
McConnell cracks down on the bill
The overthrow of Cheney solidified Tump’s enormous influence in the Republican party and set the stage for the next few weeks.
McCarthy tried almost immediately to distance himself from the commission and did not promise to offer his endorsement. When asked if he had signed the deal, McCarthy was blunt: “No, no, no,” he told reporters in the basement of the Capitol.
By the following Tuesday, leading House Republicans urged their colleagues to oppose the commission’s bill, and McCarthy took a stand against an investigation on the grounds that its scope was narrowly focused on the attack on Capitol Hill.
As Hoyer had anticipated when he suggested that Pelosi also offer the same subpoena power to Republicans, McCarthy fought to demonize the commission, and several House Republicans told The Guardian that their complaints about the scope were unconvincing.
Meanwhile, the Senate minority leader had until then denounced Trump, whom he blamed for inciting the insurrection, and publicly seemed open to a commission. But when it became clear that dozens of House Republicans would vote for the bill, his calculation quickly changed.
Two days after the Senate voted again on May 17, McConnell briefed Senate Republicans at a private breakfast that he opposed the House commission, and made it clear that he would embark on a concerted campaign to sink the bill.
The basis for McConnell’s alarm was the fact that Democrats needed 10 Senate Republicans to vote for the commission, and seven had already voted to impeach Trump during his second Senate trial, a vote far more controversial than support a January 6 investigation.
Aware that Senate Democrats may find three or four more allies in uncertain Republicans, McConnell cracked down.
After announcing at the breakfast event that he would oppose the commission, McConnell criticized the bill for being “skewed and unbalanced” in the Senate, with scathing remarks that were a clear warning about his expectations.
He kept the pressure going all afternoon that Wednesday, so that in the evening McConnell had a huge victory when Senator Richard Burr, who voted to impeach Trump only four months earlier, abruptly changed course to say he would reject the commission.
In the end, only six Senate Republicans (Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski, and Ben Sasse) voted to advance the commission.
As the final vote rushed toward its expected end, Senate minority whip John Thune, who also shifted his position to side with McConnell, acknowledged McConnell’s arguments about a commission jeopardizing the chances of Republicans to retake majorities in the House and Senate.
Summarizing his concerns, Thune said: “Anything that makes us repeat the 2020 election, I think it’s a wasted day to be able to draw a contrast between ourselves and the very radical left-wing agenda of the Democrats.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism