Anything that looks back to the final ugly spasms of the Trump presidency, as opposed to pressing the case against the current occupant of the White House and his party, would hurt the Republicans’ chances for gaining back control of Congress, McConnell acknowledged to reporters on Tuesday.
That was another way of saying that he would prefer that voters not be reminded of Trump’s own culpability for inciting his supporters to smash their way into the Capitol two weeks before he was due to be evicted from the White House — and for doing little to stop a rampaging mob that Trump subsequently described as “very special” people.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) bluntly and fairly criticized McConnell’s rationale as “a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on Jan. 6. I think we need to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about … one election cycle after another?”
Apparently, yes. It is what this is about for Republican leaders in Congress.
Despite the fact that Democrats had given them just about everything they had claimed to want — including a power-sharing arrangement under which the GOP would have equal representation on the 10-member panel, as well as a say in any subpoenas it might issue— McConnell mustered enough votes among his members to effectively kill the proposal for a commission.
The vote in favor of allowing debate to proceed was 54 to 35, which was six votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Only six Republicans broke ranks: Murkowski, Bill Cassidy (La.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Susan Collins (Maine).
Notably, 11 senators — nine Republicans and two Democrats — were absent for the vote. However, given the positions that most of them had staked out in advance, there is no reason to believe their presence would have changed the outcome.
On its face, quashing the proposed commission, which would have been structured on the model of the one set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is yet more evidence of the hold that Trump still has on his party.
After nearly three dozen GOP members joined Democrats in the House last week to approve the proposed commission, the former president issued a statement blasting those “35 wayward Republicans” and warning of “consequences to being ineffective and weak.”
Their counterparts in the Senate got the message. Republicans quake at the thought of doing anything that might cause Mt. Trump to erupt.
But there is an even darker reason to explain why they appear less concerned about paying a price for failing to reckon with what happened on Jan. 6, which was also an assault on the integrity of this country’s democratic processes.
The more dangerous truth is that a not-insignificant portion of the GOP’s Trumpian base actually appears to believe that the violent mob was justified in its effort to disrupt Congress as it conducted its pro forma tally of the electoral votes that made Joe Biden the 46th president.
These are the people who have bought into Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and who share at least some of the unhinged theories that fuel the QAnon movement.
A new poll released by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core shows that these dangerous and conspiratorial beliefs are not confined to the country’s dank backwaters.
Fully 20 percent of more than 5,500 adults questioned in all 50 states — and 28 percent of Republicans among them — said they agreed with the statement that “there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”
Even more worrisome were the 15 percent overall — and, again, 28 percent of Republicans — who were of the opinion that because “things have gotten so off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
What Republicans made clear with their vote on Friday is that they would rather allow this thinking to fester within their base, and hope that it works to their electoral advantage, than to stand up to it.
McConnell may be right that dodging and delaying accountability for what happened on Jan. 6 could help Republicans win back power in Congress. But by standing in the way of a reckoning with the poisonous forces that are growing within the ranks of their own party, they are doing a disservice to the country — one for which democracy itself will ultimately pay a price.