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McConnell turns Senate Republicans against Jan. 6 commission

Mitch McConnell’s opposition to a bipartisan proposal to independently investigate the Capitol insurrection is turning GOP senators against the bill, potentially dooming its prospects in the Senate.

The Senate minority leader informed Republicans on Wednesday that he is opposed to the 9/11-style commission that would probe the deadly Jan. 6 riot, as envisioned by the House. And in the wake of McConnell’s remarks, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) — who had expressed support on Tuesday for the idea — 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. It doesn’t appear right now that they believe that it is bipartisan in nature, which to me is extremely disappointing,” Rounds said. “The way that the bill is written right now, I would feel compelled to vote against it.”

McConnell made his remarks opposing the House’s Jan. 6 commission bill, which passed that chamber later Wednesday, at a private breakfast event. A number of Republican senators attended, including Rounds, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

McConnell had signaled on Tuesday that he was undecided but came down more firmly after another day of deliberations and explained his views in a Wednesday floor speech. The Kentucky Republican called the House’s proposal “slanted and unbalanced” and said the ongoing congressional investigations are sufficient to probe the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.

“It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could lay on top of the existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress,” McConnell said.

While dozens of House Republicans joined Democrats to back the commission bill, McConnell’s resistance suggests it’s likely to fall to a Senate GOP filibuster if major changes aren’t made. The 50-member Republican minority has mounted zero filibusters on the Senate floor so far this year — and although McConnell no longer speaks to or talks about the former president, his conference may now obstruct its first bill while falling in line with Trump.

Even supporters of the commission concept like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), both of whom voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, said they want reassurances or changes made to the House bill before they can guarantee their support.

Romney said he needed to make sure that the staff could not be selected by the Democratic majority. Collins expressed the same concern and added that she wants to ensure that the commission’s work finish up this year, and not in 2022, an election year.

“There’s plenty of time to complete the work,” she 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.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), another GOP member who voted to convict the former president, said that he’s reserving judgment until the commission comes to the Senate. But he voiced concern about the potential politicization of the panel.

“A lot of the jabbering in the House — for and against this thing — seems like thinly-veiled midterm strategy. 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,” Sasse said.

The commission bill will need 10 Senate GOP votes to even start debate and allow amendments. In addition to concerns about its makeup, several Republican senators say the commission is duplicative of existing bipartisan committee investigations into the insurrection.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that regardless of McConnell’s stance, the Senate will vote on the commission bill, but didn’t specify when. The measure will need the support of 10 Senate Republicans to pass.

“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 morning.

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) had forged a deal with House Democrats to allow equal partisan representation on the 10-member commission and to give it subpoena power to focus on the events of Jan. 6. Opposition from McCarthy, Trump and McConnell ended up tamping down defections among House Republicans, though the dozens who did vote with Democrats represented a significant break.

Even so, some in the Senate GOP are unmoved by their leadership’s opposition. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who voted to convict Trump, said Wednesday that he is “inclined to support” the commission. When asked if he agreed with McConnell’s assessment that the commission is slanted, he responded: “At this point, I do not.”

Cassidy’s position aside, Republicans are now wrestling with how much more they want to litigate Trump’s presidency. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who was bullish on the bill’s chances on Monday, said on Wednesday that his party’s hesitance about the commission was becoming increasingly clear.

Thune said Senate Republicans have not yet whipped the House’s bipartisan legislation. But he added that many House and Senate Republicans want to move forward and are concerned the commission would be politicized next year during the midterms.

“I want our midterm message to be about the kinds of issues the American people are dealing with,” Thune said. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast.”

Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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