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Congress has once again turned the obvious into the impossible, with most Republicans opposing a bipartisan commission to further investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Thirty-five House Republicans and seven Senate Republicans recognized the clear need for such an independent review, but that wasn’t enough to advance a bipartisan bill closely modeled on the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks.
In the Senate, 10 Republican votes were needed along with all Democrats in order to overcome a filibuster. Only six Republicans voted to advance the bill, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins. Another Republican said he would have supported the measure, but was absent for Friday’s vote.
“The attack on our Capitol on January 6th was an assault on our democracy as Congress was proceeding with its constitutional duty,” Collins said Friday. “I strongly support the creation of an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to examine the events leading up to the January 6th attack, to investigate exactly what occurred in the storming of the Capitol, and to provide recommendations on how we can ensure that such a breach never happens again, while keeping this symbol of our democracy open and accessible.”
“I authored a bipartisan amendment that would have helped ensure that the commission operated in a bipartisan and fair manner and that it completed its work in a timely manner,” Collins said. “It is unfortunate that we fell a few votes short of what was needed to begin debate on this vital legislation needed to help us better understand that terrible day. The American people, and particularly the men and women of the Capitol and District of Columbia police forces who fought so valiantly that day, deserve answers and recommendations that an independent, bipartisan commission would be able to provide.”
Police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6, along with family members of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the attack, met with senators before the vote to try to convince them to support the creation of a commission.
“We really need to get to the bottom of what happened that day, so that this never happens again,” Sandra Garza, Sicknick’s longtime partner, said after meeting with Collins. “I think it’s very disturbing that anyone would not want to support this. I mean, why would they not want to get to the bottom of such horrific violence?”
“This is a very important moment, and getting to the truth and the bottom of everything shouldn’t be a problem with anybody,” Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said.
DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who responded to defend the Capitol on Jan. 6, said he was meeting with senators to educate them about his experience and advocate for the commission “because I want to see Congress come together in bipartisan fashion and really get to the bottom of January 6. I think it’s necessary for us to heal as a nation from the trauma that we all experienced that day.”
After voting for the commission bill, Maine Sen. Angus King called Jan. 6 “one of the darkest moments in American history.” King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, stressed the bipartisan negotiations that produced the legislation and the fact that it tracked closely with the bipartisan, successful 9/11 commission.
“However, today the majority of my Republican colleagues in the Senate made it clear that they have little interest in looking at the facts; instead, they’d rather ignore or minimize the whole event,” King said. “Some of them have openly acknowledged they think this commission would be bad for their political messaging, but what is the message we send to enemies of democracy, at home or abroad, by failing to ask hard questions and confront the truth? When people are moving heaven and earth to block an investigation, you’ve got to ask what it is they’re afraid will be revealed.”
The events of Jan. 6 will continue to be investigated by various congressional committees and in criminal prosecutions. But those cannot replace the value of an independent commission, which would have been better shielded from politics than the committees and broader in scope than specific prosecutions. The failure of most Republicans to support such a commission is not only a missed opportunity for Americans to better understand what happened, but an abdicated responsibility from elected officials who should be able to put country before party.