U.S. Senate's McConnell opposes Capitol attack panel as House readies vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Just hours before the U.S. House of Representatives was expected to vote to approve the formation of a commission to investigate the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack by former President Donald Trump’s supporters, the Senate’s top Republican set up a major roadblock by announcing his opposition to the proposal.

FILE PHOTO: A member of the National Guard salutes while the remains of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick lay in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building after he died on Jan. 7 from injuries he sustained while protecting the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack on the building. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a speech on the Senate floor, rejected what he called “the House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal.” The House bill would give Republicans equal power with Democrats in appointing commissioners and equal say over witnesses subpoenaed to testify.

McConnell has complained that commission staff would be hired by Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress.

The heads of a similar panel that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants issued a statement urging the creation of an independent commission to look into the causes of the Jan. 6 attack.

“As we did in the wake of Sept. 11, it’s time to set aside partisan politics and come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice,” Chairman Thomas Kean, a Republican former New Jersey governor, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democratic former U.S. congressman, said in a statement.

In the evenly split Senate – controlled by Democrats only because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tie-breaking votes – Republicans can block the legislation. At least 60 votes are needed to advance most bills in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell, referring to existing congressional investigations and the previous arrests of hundreds of people in connection with the riot, slammed the door on further negotiations on establishing an independent commission.

“There will continue to be no shortage of robust investigations,” said McConnell, who in January said here that the mob that attacked the Capitol was “fed lies” and “provoked” by Trump and others.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican moderate, said while she favors modifications to the House bill, “I do think a commission is a good idea.” On Tuesday, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said Trump would be a “very key individual” in such a commission’s work.

Republican Senator John Cornyn left open the possibility of negotiating changes to the House bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will schedule a debate on the legislation. Schumer accused Republican leaders of “caving to Donald Trump and proving that the Republican Party is still drunk off the Big Lie” that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen from Trump through massive voter fraud.

House Republican leaders also oppose the House bill. Republican lawmakers who vote in favor of the commission risk drawing the wrath of Trump ahead of the 2022 elections in which Democrats are seeking to retain control of Congress.

Democrats expect to pass the measure even if they do not draw much Republican support.

The 10-member commission would face a Dec. 31 deadline to produce a public report, including recommendations for preventing another Capitol attack. It would be charged with examining security and intelligence failures surrounding the riot in which Trump’s supporters interrupted the formal congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November election. Five people died in the violence.

Trump on Tuesday urged Republicans to vote against the proposal, calling it a “trap” inspired by “the radical left.”

Trump also faces a new criminal investigation of his family company, the Trump Organization, by the New York attorney general’s office.

Some Republicans have said the commission should do more than concentrate on Jan. 6 by investigating other “political violence,” specifically referring to 2020 protests in many U.S. cities against racism and police brutality and the wounding of a Republican congressman by a gunman in 2017.

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