At one point, long ago in another age of the world, two weeks before Joe Biden took the oath of office and headed down the street to the White House to get things going, his way, the issue was clear. That would be Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the election and secure an unelected second term by goading a violent mob to storm the Capitol and threaten legislators to get that done. He was impeached a second time over that, by the House. but the Senate wouldn’t convict him. Republicans had the majority, and said they really should convict him, but they really couldn’t. By that time Donald Trump was no longer president. There was no way to remove him from office because he wasn’t in the office anymore. He was angry and brooding in Florida. The whole thing was moot. And that was that.
But then the issue changed. That riot wasn’t his people. That was antifa thugs pretending to be his people, to make him look bad. There’s no proof of that at all. In fact, no one from antifa was there. But this was the official word on Fox News. They couldn’t prove anything about antifa, but, they said, look at the logic here. Trump people don’t do such things. More and more Trump people have been arrested and charged for what they did that day, but they’re not really Trump people, not down deep. Four out of five Republicans now think this was antifa precisely because there’s no proof of that. Of course there isn’t. Those antifa people are that sneaky.
That wasn’t working out, so Trump said that there was no riot. It was a love-fest. The whole thing was utterly peaceful, and many Republicans followed his lead. Look at the tapes. These were orderly respectful tourists. That’s obviously absurd, given the actual visual evidence, but has been said often enough to seem like just another way of looking at what happened. It’s not a valid way of looking at what happened, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.
But what the hell happened? Republican would rather no one knew the answer to that question. There will be no questions now. They stopped those cold. The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian tells that tale:
The bipartisan push to launch an independent and nonpartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol suffered a fatal blow Friday, after nearly all Senate Republicans banded together in opposition.
The 54-to-35 outcome, six votes shy of the 60 needed to circumvent a procedural filibuster, followed hours of overnight chaos as lawmakers haggled over unrelated legislation. The vote stood as a blunt rejection by Republicans of an emotional last-minute appeal from the family of a Capitol Police officer who died after responding to the insurrection, as well as an 11th-hour bid by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to save the measure by introducing changes intended to address her party’s principal objections.
The 35-vote majority won this one over the 54-vote minority, the sort of thing that usually happens. The Senate has its rules, which infuriates some of them:
In its wake, many senators who had supported the commission were openly angry, as even the Democrats’ most moderate senator blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for killing a bill in order to score political points, instead of doing what was right.
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told reporters that there were “an awful lot of other Republicans that would have supported” the commission “if it hadn’t been for his intervention,” guessing that but for McConnell’s whipping, “13 or 14” GOP senators might have voted for the bill.
Joe Manchin is a bit delusional. He thinks everyone wants to work together and only Mitch McConnell stood alone in the way of that this time. But the votes he imagined were never there:
In the past two weeks, only a handful of Republican senators expressed positive sentiments about a commission. On Friday, six of them – Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Collins – joined all voting Democrats to back the commission. All except Portman voted earlier this year to convict Trump on impeachment charges for inciting an insurrection.
That’s too few to do the job, The rest of the Republicans live to defend Donald Trump. Their constituents demand that of them, and then there’s this:
Another 11 – nine Republicans and two Democrats – did not participate. Though the vote was held on the last day before senators were scheduled to take a week-long break, it was striking that so many missed such a high-profile vote – especially because some had voiced positive opinions about the proposed commission in recent days.
Now they were stuck and had to choose, to go on record with their vote, one way or the other. That was too dangerous. They didn’t show up. No one could pin anything on them, one way or the other, but that hardly mattered:
Both Democrats who missed the vote, Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), along with Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), would have cast yes votes had they been present, bringing the commission legislation within three of the 60 it needed to proceed. Murray needed to fly home for a personal matter, she said via Twitter. Sinema’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Toomey had a family commitment, his spokesman said.
At least one other of those nine Republicans – Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.) – issued positive statements about a commission last week, only to walk them back on the eve of the vote.
But perhaps it was best just to run away:
The commission legislation was a product of cross-party negotiations among leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee, and it had galvanized significant support among Republicans in the lower chamber. Last week, 35 GOP House members joined all voting House Democrats to back the creation of a Jan. 6 commission, to be modeled after a similar independent panel formed in the aftermath of 9/11 and charged with producing an objective account of what fueled the day’s violence.
But in the Senate, Republican sentiment soured after McConnell dismissed the commission as needlessly duplicative of congressional probes – and as a Trojan horse that would help Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.
He won’t allow that. There’s that angry old man in Florida. Do not make him any angrier. Argue over the details. And save your skin:
Former president Donald Trump, whose most zealous supporters carried out the attack, has cast a long shadow over the GOP as lawmakers have wrestled with the proposal to establish a 10-person panel of nongovernment experts charged with finding answers – and accountability. The proposal called for five members, including the chair, to be appointed by Democrats and five, including the vice chair, to be appointed by Republicans. The commission would have had the power to issue subpoenas on a bipartisan basis, which some Democrats warned – and many Republicans worried – could have been used to force the former president and his allies in Congress to testify under oath.
Over the past week, GOP senators voiced concern that even if the commissioners’ ranks were bipartisan, the panel’s staffing might not be. They also argued that if the panel did not produce a final report before the end of the year, Republican lawmakers would have to spend much of the 2022 campaign season responding to its revelations about Trump’s past ills and trying to sidestep his outbursts, when their aim is to make the next election cycle a referendum on President Biden and the Democrats who control Congress.
And of course the word had come down|:
Trump entered the fray last week, warning that the commission was a “Democrat trap” and excoriating the “35 wayward Republicans” who supported the proposal in the House.
“Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak,” he said in a statement, issuing a personal challenge to McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to heed his warnings.
He’d seen far too much of that and had made sure that would stop:
The GOP’s reluctance to hold Trump accountable for allegedly inciting the riot began just days after the violent incident, when Democrats responded by impeaching him for a second time, an effort in which only 10 House Republicans joined. A month later, a majority of Senate Republicans voted to acquit him based on a widely challenged argument that the Constitution does not permit the conviction of former presidents.
The GOP’s votes stood in sharp contrast to its prevailing rhetoric at the time, which was sharply critical of Trump. McConnell, immediately after voting to acquit the former president, accused him of inciting the insurrection. Yet in recent weeks such criticism largely fell silent as Republicans muzzled anti-Trump sentiment within their ranks, even ousting the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), from her leadership position over her campaign to hold Trump accountable for the riot.
And now he seems to have demanded they ignore the whining families of dead cops:
On Thursday, family and friends of Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick attempted to make a personal moral appeal to GOP senators, in the hopes of shaking up the political stalemate and turning votes in favor of the commission. Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters at the insurrection, the District’s chief medical examiner ruled last month. But after meeting with 15 senators, Sandra Garza, the late officer’s partner, emerged deflated.
“Why would they not want to get to the bottom of such horrific violence?” she said to reporters. “It just boggles my mind.”
The family met with Republican senators who were committed to opposing the commission and those who had already declared their intention to support it, as well as a group on the fence. Late Thursday night, Murkowski, one of the Republicans who promised to back the commission ahead of the vote, recounted telling Sicknick’s mother, Gladys Sicknick, that she was “heartsick that you feel you need to advocate to members of Congress that we stand up and say, ‘The truth is hard, but the truth is necessary.’”
Trump is having Murkowski drummed out of the party. He has already chosen who should run against her in the next primary way up north. This thing was never going to pass. This was over before it began.
The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos tells this same tale with different emphases:
Republicans on Friday blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, using their filibuster power in the Senate for the first time this year to doom a full accounting of the deadliest attack on Congress in centuries.
The vote was a stark display of loyalty to former President Donald J. Trump and political self-interest by Republicans determined to shield themselves from an inquiry that could tarnish their party. They feared an investigation that would remind voters of the consequences of Mr. Trump’s election lies and how Republican lawmakers indulged them, spurring their supporters to violence.
It all but guaranteed that there would be no comprehensive nonpartisan inquiry into the attack’s root causes, the former president’s conduct as his supporters threatened lawmakers and the vice president, or any connections between his allies in Congress and the rioters.
In short, keep all that hidden forever, but that will be hard:
Some Republicans expressed disgust with their own party for blocking it, saying that they had put politics over the finding of what promised to be a grim set of facts.
“I don’t want to know, but I need to know,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the six Republicans who voted to form the commission. “To be making a decision for short-term political gain, at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on Jan. 6 – I think we need to look at that critically.”
Trump will destroy her for that, but this is over:
While the Justice Department has opened hundreds of criminal cases against rioters, and congressional committees are likely to expand nascent inquiries, they will almost certainly confront limits that a commission staffed with national security experts, jointly appointed by Republicans and Democrats, would not. Among them are partisanship, defiant witnesses and turf wars that are likely to leave unanswered key questions about how the party rallied around Mr. Trump’s stolen-election lies and his demands that Republicans invalidate Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.
“Do my Republican colleagues remember that day?” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, asked moments after the vote. “Do my Republican colleagues remember the savage mob calling for the execution of Mike Pence, the makeshift gallows outside the Capitol?”
They’d rather not remember that day. Mitch wants to forget it all. But that would only encourage that angry old man in Florida:
Though Mr. McConnell said he would continue to support criminal cases against the rioters and stand by his “unflinching” criticisms of Mr. Trump, the commission’s defeat is likely to only embolden the former president at a time when he has once again ramped up circulation of his baseless and debunked claims. Republicans had already saved Mr. Trump from conviction in two impeachment trials.
They’ll save him from everything else now. He’s winning, as he always does:
In a matter of months, his lies have warped the views of many of his party’s supporters, who view President Biden as illegitimate. They have also inspired a rash of new voting restrictions in Republican-led states and a quixotic recount in Arizona denounced by both parties. And they have fueled efforts by Republican members of Congress to diminish and reframe the Capitol riot as a benign event akin to a “normal tourist visit.”
“People are just now beginning to understand!” Mr. Trump wrote in a statement on Thursday.
He is the president, not Biden. There will be rallies. He will call for taking back America. His mob will march again. This is over.
No, it isn’t:
Democrats denounced the vote and warned Republicans that preventing an independent inquiry would not shield them from confronting the implications of Mr. Trump’s attacks on the democratic process.
Mr. Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are now planning their own committee investigations into the attack, how it was coordinated and why the government failed to prevent an assault that left several dead, the Capitol ransacked and those inside at risk.
Ms. Pelosi could also set up a select committee focused solely on the attack, handing Democrats unilateral subpoena power and a much longer timeline to investigate whatever they want. Mr. Schumer seemingly endorsed the idea on Friday afternoon, saying that it was “better to investigate with a select committee than not investigate.”
And there’s that other matter:
Progressives seized on Republicans’ opposition to the commission as new justification to press their case for invoking the so-called nuclear option to rewrite the filibuster rule and allow bills to pass on simple majority votes. Activists have pressed Democratic leaders to do so, and then skirt Republican opposition to enact pressing liberal priorities, like a sweeping voting rights measure, gun control legislation, legalization of undocumented immigrants and more.
“If the Republicans can’t agree to an independent commission investigating the first armed insurrection at the Capitol in our nation’s history, then something is bad wrong,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. “And that something is the filibuster.”
But changing the rules would require the agreement of all 50 Democrats, and at least two oppose the move. One of them, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, said that his position was unchanged.
“I’m not willing to destroy our government, no,” he said.
He may change his mind now. Those other guys already destroyed our government, and they know it:
After his own flirtation with supporting the bill, Mr. McConnell worked aggressively to quash support. To convince his colleagues that Democrats were acting in bad faith, despite the bipartisan nature of the commission, Mr. McConnell circulated an interview with James Carville, the Democratic strategist, urging his party to “make the Republicans own that insurrection every day.”
They do own it. and Jonathan Chait adds this:
The logic of the party’s about-face on the January 6 commission is ultimately pretty simple. When they first conceived the idea, they imagined that they would be moving into a post-Trump era, and an exploration of the former president’s culpability would not impair their political message. It might have even aided it – after all, a key element to the right-wing backlash against President Obama was the pretense that Republicans had learned from George W. Bush’s errors and could no longer be blamed for them.
But once they realized they couldn’t repudiate Trump, at least not without a cost, the political math of the commission no longer penciled out. Now such a spectacle threatened to indict a man still very much the party’s face. The vote has become another symbolic demonstration of the party’s continued fealty to its self-styled president in exile.
And so they have set out to convince themselves of Trump’s innocence.
But who else will they convince? That’s their problem now:
The Republican Party’s approach toward Trump since 2015 has been marked by a consistent belief that he either will or should be stopped from doing terrible things, by somebody else, eventually. Meanwhile, his control over the party has tightened; nearly every contested primary is a humiliating competition to grovel for his approval; and he is picking off dissenters one by one. Now, even the symbolic step of denouncing the violent portion of his sincere effort to destroy American democracy is no longer possible.
That’s what worries Karen Tumulty:
Republicans quake at the thought of doing anything that might cause Mt. Trump to erupt.
But there is an even darker reason to explain why they appear less concerned about paying a price for failing to reckon with what happened on Jan. 6, which was also an assault on the integrity of this country’s democratic processes.
The more dangerous truth is that a not-insignificant portion of the GOP’s Trumpian base actually appears to believe that the violent mob was justified in its effort to disrupt Congress as it conducted its pro forma tally of the electoral votes that made Joe Biden the 46th president.
They want to overthrow the duly elected government, and Trump knows this and wants them to do that for him, and Republican Party leaders know this and have had to sign up for a coup, or lose everything. An independent January 6 Commission would make all of this clear. So, who wants to destroy American democracy? This was the day that thirty-five Republicans did. Everyone knows that now.