McConnell's Opposition to Jan. 6 Commission Sways Fellow GOP Senators Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks following a Senate Republican Policy luncheon at the Russell Senate Office Building on May 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
By Charlie McCarthy | Thursday, 20 May 2021 12:43 PM
A Democrat-driven effort to fast-track an independent and bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol breach hit a major roadblock as opposition from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has given vulnerable Republicans cover to reject the probe.
McConnell informed his GOP colleagues during a Wednesday breakfast event that he was opposed to the 9/11-style commission, at least in the form envisioned by the House, according to Politico.
Hours later, the House voted 252-175 — with 35 Republicans in favor — to approve the commission despite some late GOP resistance. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Tuesday he would not support the commission bill because it would be "duplicative and potentially counterproductive."
Following McConnell’s declaration, other Republicans seemed to fall in line with the leader, and the panel's prospects appear far from promising in the upper chamber.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who had expressed support on Tuesday, said he could no longer back the commission in its current form.
"We’ve had a chance to hear from House leadership about what they saw in the bill," Rounds said. "It doesn’t appear right now that they believe that it is bipartisan in nature, which to me is extremely disappointing. The way that the bill is written right now, I would feel compelled to vote against it."
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who voted to convict former President Donald Trump at his second impeachment trial and is retiring in 2023, told Axios he was against the commission. He added he "always believed that investigations were better focused within the committees of jurisdiction."
Although previously saying he was undecided about the commission, McConnell explained his views in a Wednesday floor speech. He called the House’s proposal "slanted and unbalanced" and said the ongoing congressional investigations are sufficient to probe the Capitol incident.
McConnell's opposition suggests the legislation likely will not pass unless major changes are made.
Even supporters of the concept of the commission such as Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah — who both voted to convict Trump — said they want reassurances or changes made to the House bill.
Collins and Romney said the Democrat majority should not select the commission’s staff, and Collins also wants the commission’s work to finish up this year and not drag into the 2022 midterm election year.
"There’s plenty of time to complete the work," Collins said. "If those changes are made and some others, I will support the commission. It would be valuable in terms of establishing exactly what happened."
Minority Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., agreed with McConnell.
"I want our midterm message to be about the kinds of issues that the American people are dealing with — it’s jobs and wages and the economy, national security, safe streets, strong borders and those types of issues, not relitigating the 2020 election," Thune said, according to The New York Times.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who also voted to convict Trump, said he was reserving judgment, but was concerned about potential politicization of the panel.
"A lot of the jabbering in the House — for and against this thing — seems like thinly-veiled midterm strategy," Sasse said. "And, if that’s all this becomes, it’d be better for historians to take the long-view than for politicians to take the short-view."
Not all Republican senators were swayed by McConnell’s decision. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who voted to convict Trump, said Wednesday he was still "inclined to support" the commission.
When asked if he agreed with McConnell that the commission appeared slanted, he responded: "At this point, I do not," according to Politico
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Senate will vote on the commission bill, though he didn't specify when. The commission bill requires 10 GOP votes in the equally divided Senate to even start debate and allow amendments — nevermind to actually pass the chamber.
"The American people will see for themselves whether our Republican friends stand on the side of the truth or on the side of Donald Trump’s big lie," Schumer said on Wednesday.