In a statement in mid-February, with the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot still fresh in the minds of millions of Americans and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Texas Sen. John Cornyn called the attack “horrific and appalling.”
“Those who planned and participated in the violence that day should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the Texas Republican wrote in a statement at the time. “I agree with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi that a 9/11-type of investigation is called for to examine and address the confluence of causes for those shocking events and to help prevent them from ever happening again.”
Now Senate Republicans are poised to block a bill which would create the kind of bipartisan, independent commission that Cornyn called for in that statement — and the Texas Senator is one of them.
“Unfortunately, since the idea of a 9/11 type commission was originally floated, it became clear that Nancy Pelosi was going to try to politicize it and use it as a political weapon,” Cornyn told Spectrum News Thursday.
The legislation cleared the Democratic-led House last week with the support of more than three dozen Republicans, but it’s not expected to receive the 60 votes — including at least 10 from Republicans — to overcome a filibuster, placing renewed pressure on Democrats to do away with the process.
A handfull of Republican Senators, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, have said they will back it. Others, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, have proposed tweaks to the legislation to try to attract more votes.
Cornyn called on Congress' standing committees to investigate the deadly riot instead: “I think there are other ways to get to the bottom of this, which include the same way the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted an investigation of the 2016 election and the Russian interference with that election.”
The Texas lawmaker claimed that the commission would feed a Democratic narrative about the attack leading up to the midterm elections.
But Democrats allege that Republicans are afraid a commission would uncover information damaging to former president Donald Trump, including complaints he took too long to respond.
Cornyn believes “there's a better way to divorce this issue from politics” — but that way is not, what he calls, “some politicized commission.”
"I think we have a pretty good idea what happened [on Jan. 6]; I was here," Cornyn said. "And this is this is unlike the 911 Commission in that respect."
The bill was the product of negotiations between House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. John Katko of New York. But after the bipartisan deal was struck, GOP leaders came out in opposition of it.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Senate Minority Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have argued the commission would duplicate other investigations being conducted in the Senate and by federal agencies and could interfere with criminal prosecutions. Joining many other Republicans, McCarthy also has insisted that a commission should also examine violence during last summer’s racial justice protests.
"I think at the heart of this recommendation by the Democrats is that they would like to continue to debate things that occured in the past. They would like to continue to litigate the former president into the future,” said McConnell, who once said former President Donald Trump was responsible for “provoking” the mob attack on the Capitol. “We think the American people going forward, and in the fall of 2022, ought to focus on what this administration is doing to the country and what the clear choice is that we have made to oppose most of these initiatives.
"I think this is a purely political exercise that adds nothing to the sum total of information,” the Senate minority leader added.
Trump said last week Republicans “should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission.”
President Joe Biden and Democrats, meanwhile, say the inquiry is needed to provide a full accounting of what transpired on Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol as lawmakers convened to certify Biden’s election victory.
The commission would be modeled after the panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It would include five members appointed by Democrats and five chosen by Republicans who would examine the assault on the Capitol as well as the events that led up to it.
The commissioners would have subpoena power and must submit a report detailing their findings to Congress by Dec. 31. The members would have significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence or cybersecurity. Current government officers or employees would not be eligible.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has suggested that if the commission bill fails, Democrats may form their own separate panel to investigate the riot. She, however, says she prefers a bipartisan panel and has noted that it too more than a year for legislation to be passed creating the 9/11 commission.
Ahead of the vote, the mother of the late Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick said Wednesday she would meet with lawmakers to try to persuade them to act. Sicknick was among many officers protecting the building, some seen in videos in hand-to-hand combat with mob. He collapsed immediately after engaging with the rioters and died the next day.
“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 said in a statement.
“Putting politics aside, wouldn’t they want to know the truth of what happened on January 6?” she said.
Spectrum News' Ryan Chatelain and The Associated Press contributed to this report.