WASHINGTON — Nearly five months ago, a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, attacked police officers, chanted about hanging then-Vice President Mike Pence, and tried to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. At one point on that day, January 6, 2021, insurrectionists spilled onto the floor of the Senate where they posed for pictures and ransacked the senators’ private desks. On Friday, Republican senators stood on that same ground and voted to block the creation of a bipartisan commission to understand what happened during the January 6th Capitol Riot and how to prevent future acts of political violence like it.
The final vote was 54 to 35, six votes shy of the threshold needed to defeat a Republican filibuster. Multiple senators did not cast a vote on the bill, including Democrats Patty Murray of Washington and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. (Murray said she supported the commission but had to fly home for a “personal family matter.” Sinema also supported the bill but didn’t say why she missed Friday’s vote.)
Just six out of 50 Republican senators voted in favor of the commission, which was modeled after the 9/11 Commission. “This vote has made it official: Donald Trump’s big lie has now fully enveloped the Republican Party,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the vote.
Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant and an ardent critic of the pro-Trump direction of the GOP, tells Rolling Stone that the Republican filibuster is just the latest sign of how little the modern-day Republican Party cares about protecting American democracy. Instead, he says, the GOP’s leader would rather shield their party’s figurehead, Donald Trump, and the party’s base from any form of accountability if it gives them a better chance of winning reelection and regaining majority control of Congress. “This is about literally an insurrection and an attack on our government,” Madrid says. “We’ve entered a very dangerous place for our democracy when one party is utilizing all of its tactical abilities to protect a base that it know has become a threat to our democratic institutions.”
The vote comes after weeks of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over how the January 6th commission would function and who would serve on it. Democrats agreed to have an equal number of members from both parties serve on the commission; they also conceded more power to Republicans over the commission’s subpoena power. Once those concessions were made, the House of Representatives passed a bill to create the commission with nearly three-dozen Republicans — but not House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — voting in favor.
But once the bill moved to the Senate, it met with fierce and disingenuous resistance from Republicans all the way up to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They complained that the commission was still too partisan, despite the many concessions agreed to by Schumer and the Democratic majority. In response, Republicans faced pressure from a range of Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), arguably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. “There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against this commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for,” Manchin said in a statement. “Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 election.” However, Manchin said he would not support any changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules, changes that could lower the threshold to 50 votes to pass the Jan. 6th commission bill.
Family and friends of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who was attacked with bear spray on January 6th and died not long afterward, also lobbied Republicans to vote in favor of creating the commission. “I suggest that all congressmen and senators who are against this bill visit my son’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery and, while there, think about what their hurtful decisions will do to those officers who will be there for them going forward,” Gladys Sicknick, the officer’s mother, said in a statement.
But the lobbying couldn’t sway 10 Republican senators to vote with all 50 Democrats to pass the bill and establish the bipartisan commission. The implications for failing to investigate the events of January 6th extend well beyond better understanding the events of that day, what went wrong, and how to prevent future outbreaks of political violence. Madrid, the Republican consultant who cofounded the Lincoln Project but has since left the group, says the country’s founders had not envisioned a situation like this one, in which the breakdown of foundational democratic norms was driven by elected officials beholden to their most extreme followers.
“All of the safeguards and off-ramps to protect against mob rule are breaking down from inside,” he said. “Our constitutional republic is being dismantled from within.”