Washington — GOP Senator Mitt Romney of Utah indicated Monday he would support the House-passed bill establishing a commission to examine the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, breaking from other Senate Republicans who have come out against the proposal.
Romney told reporters on Capitol Hill "I would support the bill" if it were to come up for a vote in the Senate. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski also told reporters on Tuesday that she would support the bill. The measure, approved by the House with backing from all Democrats and 35 Republicans, requires 60 votes to advance in the evenly divided Senate.
Calls for a 9/11-type commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol came from members of both parties in the immediate wake of the riots by the violent mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. But in the months since January 6 and with the 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, Republicans backed away from the idea of a commission, taking issue with the proposed structure and arguing the standing congressional committees can examine the attack and the factors leading to it.
Republicans also argue the scope of the commission's investigation — on January 6 exclusively — is too narrow and should be widened to examine protests last summer against police brutality and racial inequity that led to violent clashes with law enforcement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he wants to move past January 6, telling reporters on Tuesday that he believed Democrats "would like to continue to debate things that occurred in the past."
"I think that this is purely political exercise that adds nothing to the subtotal of information," McConnell said about the legislation.
While the bill establishing the panel was negotiated in part by Republican Congressman John Katko of New York, GOP congressional leaders last week, adding another obstacle to passage in the Senate, where 10 Republicans would need to join the 50 Democrats to overcome a filibuster. If Senate Republicans do decide to block the bill, it would be the first filibuster of the new Congress.
Senator Joe Manchin, one of the few Democrats who opposes eliminating the filibuster, has urged Republicans to support the bill. He told reporters on Tuesday that he found McConnell's opposition to the bill "extremely frustrating and disturbing."
"There's a time when you rise above [politics], and I'm hoping that this would be the time that he would do that. I guess from what I am hearing, he hasn't," Manchin said about McConnell.
The bill creates a 10-member commission evenly divided between members selected by Democratic and Republican leaders. Both sides would have equal subpoena power, and the commission is tasked with issuing a report with findings about the January 6 attack by the end of the year. Much the language in the legislation is copied from the bill creating the 9/11 commission, which passed with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the Senate in 2002.
Some Republican senators have indicated that they may be willing to support the bill if changes are made. GOP Senator Susan Collins is circulating a list with suggestions for amending the legislation.
Senator Bill Cassidy told reporters Tuesday that he will "reserve judgment until I see what the final bill looks like." He raised concerns that the commission's work could drag on into next year, despite the time limit established in the legislation. However, Cassidy said that he believed a bipartisan commission would be preferable to committee investigations led by House and Senate Democrats.
"If they wish to have a political weapon, it'd be easy for Schumer and Pelosi to each appoint their own committees and run now as long as they want to. So it seems like in that regard, this would be a better approach," Cassidy said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that she was willing to take a more partisan route in investigating the events of January 6 if Republicans did not cooperate, meaning that she could call hearings with the Democratic-led committees issuing subpoenas.
"I certainly could call for hearings in the House with a majority of the members being Democrats with full subpoena power with the agenda being determined by the Democrats, but that's not the path we have chosen to go," Pelosi said.
The bill, and it's expected to be taken up by the Senate either this week or early next month.