After the top Democrat and Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee on Monday announced the agreement to form the commission, McCarthy released a statement Tuesday saying that any commission should also investigate other acts of violence near the Capitol and against members of Congress.
“The renewed focus by Democrats to now stand up an additional commission ignores the political violence that has struck American cities, a Republican Congressional baseball practice, and, most recently, the deadly attack on Capitol Police on April 2, 2021,” McCarthy said. “The presence of this political violence in American society cannot be tolerated and it cannot be overlooked.”
Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) followed that up with a letter to GOP colleagues recommending a “no” vote. But Democrats don’t need GOP votes to pass a bill in the House — and given that the bill is co-sponsored by the ranking Republican on a House committee, it seems likely to get at least a handful of GOP votes anyway.
The Senate has so far been the chamber to stymie Democratic-sponsored bills. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been critical of early proposals for a commission, saying that they were too partisan and that both parties should have equal authority to subpoena witnesses and documents. (The new agreement requires both the Democratic-appointed chair of the commission and the Republican-appointed vice chair to agree on subpoenas).
McConnell expressed some skepticism about the newly proposed panel, too, saying he’s worried about a Democratic-appointed chair being in charge of hiring commission staff.
But unlike McCarthy, McConnell left the door open to backing the commission, saying he is “willing to listen” to arguments in favor of it. That doesn’t mean he’s backing it, but it could mean he wouldn’t fight it, either (which could also be key).
And a handful of other Senate Republicans have signaled a willingness to at least engage on the issue. At least seven others have signaled their interest in a commission focused only on Jan. 6.
Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.) called the events of Jan. 6 an “insurrection” and said he doesn’t “want it to be swept under any rug,” according to NBC News.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said he wants an investigation, telling the Dispatch that “if we can have a serious examination of the events leading up to, occurring, and in the aftermath of that day, we should do it. We need to learn as much as we can.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), who like Romney voted to convict former president Donald Trump of incitement of insurrection in his second impeachment trial, told ABC News in February that he supports a commission. “I think there should be a complete investigation about what happened on Jan. 6,” he said. “Why was there not more law enforcement, National Guard already mobilized, what was known, who knew it, and when they knew it, all that, because that builds the basis so this never happens again in the future.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), another of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump, said Tuesday on CNN that Trump himself should testify before the commission and that it should be focused on Jan. 6.
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who also voted to convict Trump, told the Portland Press Herald in April that she supports an investigation, saying that “there are still many unanswered questions about the violence that occurred at the Capitol on Jan. 6” and that the investigation should include a review of potential intelligence failures before the riot.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Tuesday that he assumes a commission proposal will pass “in some form” and that it will pass “with a pretty big margin” in the House. Thune said the commission should primarily focus on Jan. 6, seemingly disagreeing with McCarthy’s proposal to expand the investigation.
Signaling support for such a commission isn’t the same as a “yes” vote on the bill coming out of the House — or any other bill. GOP senators seemingly don’t have a lot of incentives to get to “yes,” actually.
Republicans probably don’t want to spend months reopening old wounds, publicly revisiting the riot and Trump’s claims of voter fraud ahead of it. But the number of senators openly expressing interest in the commission is an indicator of the momentum behind the effort to more closely examine what happened in January. And McConnell hasn’t exactly been pushing back hard against it.
It’s unclear whether the remaining Republicans who voted to convict Trump in February — Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) — are on board. But they would be logical potential supporters. And if they are, and all 50 Democratic senators vote in favor of the commission, that could theoretically be 60 votes — or possibly more, since Thune’s vote, as Senate minority whip, would seemingly signal to other members of his party that they, too, can vote for the measure.
Republicans could also try to force changes to the final makeup of the commission — for example, demanding that both parties can hire staff. Reluctance from Democrats to make changes or concessions could give Republicans cover to vote against it. But for now, there seems to be at least some momentum — and a few Republicans considering voting “yes.”