The Republicans weren’t united, but they were united enough.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer scheduled a vote on cloture on Friday to advance the bill to form a January 6 commission on the Capitol riot. The vote on the commission bill could pass with a simple majority; i.e., at worst, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a 50-50 tie on party lines. But to break a filibuster to achieve cloture, and advance the bill for a final vote, the bill’s proponents needed 60 votes.
A short while ago the Republicans launched their filibuster, as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had earlier suggested they would. The cloture vote ensued very quickly.
It was defeated 54-35. Two Democrats were absent, but the 54-vote majority was boosted by six Republicans who voted with the 48 Democrats present for cloture. They were the usual suspects; readers could rattle off their names without having to think twice: Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Cassidy, Portman, and Sasse.
Nine Republicans were absent as well. The nine Republicans’ votes were not needed to prevent cloture; the two absent Democrats could have voted but without impact.
Most Republicans objected to the anticipated highly partisan nature of the proposed commission. They have good reason for that concern. The commission would quite certainly have been nothing but a method of forming and showcasing a partisan narrative about the Capitol riot. Republicans in Congress have already been denied access for months to video from the Capitol security cameras, an improper use of power by the Democratic majority for which there can be no excuse. A commission run by the Democrats would behave just as badly. After the behavior of House Democrats who excluded Republicans from hearings in leading to the first Trump impeachment effort, it is legitimate for Republicans to assume that material would be routinely withheld from them even on a supposedly “bipartisan” commission.
I was actually prepared, in spite of this perfectly valid assumption, to go forward with a commission, if the Democrats managed to get one created. The Mueller “investigation” spent more than two years punching the hysterical anti-Trump mob in the face with a series of truth bombs, even though it bore the hallmark of its universally and extremely partisan leadership — starting with Andrew Weissmann — and staff. I would expect a commission on the Capitol riot to do something similar.
Whatever the commission put its hand to “investigating” would be probed independently by new media and congressional Republicans, as occurred with the Mueller endeavor. A steady drip of leaks from the commission to the mainstream media would be necessary to generate the narrative the commission would be designed to put its stamp on; without leaks, there would be no point. The commission would have to show its hand at every step along the way. Each leak would provide investigative cues and prompt independent public analysis, forensic efforts, and FOIA requests.
That’s as it should be. I’m not sorry to see a commission proposal fail, because there is no good reason to set up an expectation that the “national issue of the Capitol riot” wouldn’t be resolved until such a commission made its report. But my worry about the commission wasn’t that it would find decisively damning facts, but that in wasting the American people’s time on inflating a partisan narrative, it would ruin innocent people financially and steal years from their lives, as the Mueller juggernaut did.
Fortunately, the prospect of that is dead, at least for now. The Department of Justice continues its effort to round up people who were present at the Capitol riot and indict them on non-insurrection charges. We have yet to learn who the initial break-in perpetrators were; those individuals, glimpsed publicly in a couple of security video clips and in social media coverage, have for some reason not been found. But at some point, DOJ will presumably be ready to tell us if it’s ever going to indict anyone on more than the usual mid-riot charges, such as trespassing, vandalism, criminal mischief, and assault on law enforcement officers.
It’s been nearly five months since the riot, with no charges to sustain the vaporous media theme of an “insurrection.” The benefit of the DOJ/FBI investigation is that its product has to withstand the test in court. Unlike a congressional commission, it can’t just generate packaged insinuations or outright lies. It can’t take such products to court and protect them from devastating exposure with enough media complicity. Someone is going to cross-examine them. Discovery will rip off layers of obfuscation. Some judges will reject them for what they are.
DOJ hasn’t been able so far to convincingly back up the media narrative about the riot, and the Republicans in the Senate have blocked a commission that would try to do so, at great expense in public time and private suffering for innocent individuals. Such are the options in this most appalling of times: not pursuing justice, which cannot be the outcome of any process undertaken, but picking which badly compromised government entities get to create a narrative for us.