After the House passed a bill to establish a commission to investigate the events surrounding January 6, Senate Republicans look poised to torpedo the commission with few Republicans signaling they’d vote with Democrats to support it.
Democrats would need 10 Republican lawmakers to buck their leadership, join Democrats and spend the next several months diving further into the events that shook the Capitol four months ago.
The bottom line: In the last three days, the shift among Senate Republicans here has been rapid with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laying the groundwork to educate his members on what he views as potential shortcomings and pitfalls of another investigative body. The evolution here has been swift and to underscore that, look no further than two GOP senators from South Dakota. On Monday, Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune seemed open to a potential commission. In the days that have followed, they’ve made it clear they are far more likely now to vote no.
The latest: Burr not on board
Sen. Richard Burr, one of the seven GOP senators to vote for impeachment, announced and explained his opposition to the 1/6 commission on Thursday afternoon. His opposition all but torpedoes any hope of getting to 10 Republican senators, as Burr was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.
“These investigations are being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course,” Burr said in a statement Thursday. “I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise.”
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer moved Wednesday night to bring up the House’s passed commission bill to the Senate floor as soon as next week. There’s a reason they are moving quickly. The momentum, aides believe, is there to keep the pressure on. That’s hardly a guarantee it will pass, but keeping the pressure on and options open is important for Democrats right now.
Behind the scenes
McConnell has been working his members in the classic way: not telling them what to do, but instead laying out what a commission would actually mean for them day to day. A key point McConnell and Republicans like Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri have been making to rank and file is that there are already bodies doing expansive investigative work. You have the Department of Justice, oversight hearings in the House, a bipartisan, multi-committee effort coming from Senate Rules and Homeland that will produce a report in a matter of weeks and no shortage of hearings over the last several months. A commission, McConnell has argued, would be duplicative. And for a lot of members, that has been convincing. Blunt has also been telling members that if the goal of a commission is to understand security failures and better equip the Capitol, waiting another seven months to get those answers isn’t useful.
Republicans are also keenly aware of what another seven months of investigation into January 6 would mean: more talk of former President Donald Trump, more talk of the big lie, more questions each and every day about a dark day that was the culmination of months of falsehoods and fanning of the flames by many members in the GOP. If the goal is to take back the House and Senate in 2022, that’s not helpful.
Who is where?
In the last several days, CNN’s congressional team has been running our own whip count of how members are viewing the commission on the GOP side. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it gives a glimpse of where about half of the conference stands right now. Expect in upcoming hours for the “no” votes to grow.
GOP senators planning to vote no
- Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
- Roy Blunt of Missouri
- Josh Hawley of Missouri
- Mike Rounds of South Dakota
- Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
GOP senators who may vote yes
- Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
- Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
- Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania
- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
- Mitt Romney of Utah
GOP senators who’ve expressed concerns about the House bill
- Richard Shelby of Alabama
- Marco Rubio of Florida
- Rick Scott of Florida
- Chuck Grassley of Iowa
- John Kennedy of Louisiana
- Susan Collins of Maine
- Thom Tillis of North Carolina
- Rob Portman of Ohio
- Kevin Cramer of North Dakota
- James Lankford of Oklahoma
- John Thune of South Dakota
- John Cornyn of Texas
- Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming
Who could vote yes?
A good place to start is the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump on impeachment besides Burr. But even then, you are still four members short without him. And some of the members who voted to convict Trump have already said they have concerns about the commission.
One talking point we have heard: Is that the commission is structured in a way that gives the chairman sole power to hire staff on the commission. And, there is a bit more nuance to it than that. Some Republicans have told us that the bill is different than the bill that established the 9/11 commission. CNN has pulled the language of both bills, and both bills were structured the exact same way. Ultimately, yes, the chairman has the final say on who to hire, but those decisions are made “in consultation” with the vice chair.
This story and headline have been updated Thursday with additional developments.