The question before us was never whether we required a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the unprecedented Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol — that could hardly be more self-evident — but how a major American political party would come to reject the commission out of hand.
Voting down the commission may be as great a scandal as the attack itself, and in the long term, maybe even greater. If we can’t have a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission, maybe we should launch one to investigate how Mitch McConnell and his craven team got to this point.
And while we’re on the topic, we need to ask again, and again, and again, when the few holdout Democrats, led by Joe Manchin, will finally realize that bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate is dead. Democrats have the power to kill the filibuster and, in the process, save the Senate from itself, but not if those like Manchin — whose West Virginia is among the reddest of red states — refuse to go along.
All 50 Democrats, with Kamala Harris as tie-breaker, are needed to change the rule — one that has a sad history as a tool often used by racist Dixiecrats to stop civil rights legislation. Its more recent history is simply to erase the concept of majority rule.
A majority vote would have been enough to get a commission. A majority vote would be enough to create federal laws to override the contagion of voter-suppression laws being passed around the county in Republican-dominated state governments — an issue that may, in fact, determine which party owns the majority in 2022. A majority vote is a relic in McConnell World except for those times when Democrats can use the arcane reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes.
Before the vote, when Manchin was saying how disappointed he was that Republicans would apparently fail to approve the commission, he was asked whether he would kill the filibuster in order to get the commission in place. His odd reply was, “I’m not ready to destroy our government. I’m not ready to destroy our government, no.”
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It was odd because the commission, of course, would have investigated a vicious assault on our government. House Democrats will almost certainly launch an investigation of their own, but it will be one that Republicans can safely either deride as partisan or ignore altogether.
That’s not the lesson of Jan. 6. That’s the lesson of May 28, another day for your infamy calendar. Remember when John Hickenlooper was mocked in his brief run for president for saying he would be able to work with Mitch McConnell to, you know, get things done. As a senator, Hickenlooper has said he wants to give Republicans a chance before blowing everything up, but added that he would definitely consider ending the filibuster. I tried to reach Hick on Thursday — he was understandably busy — but I expect he’ll have seen the light. I know Michael Bennet has.
The Jan. 6 attackers were, of course, Trump crazies who wanted to hang Mike Pence and maybe kill Nancy Pelosi, crazies who violently attacked an overwhelmed Capitol police, crazies whom Trump egged on and then refused for hours to call off, crazies who made a mockery of the very American notion of a peaceful transfer of power while leaving five dead in their wake. It’s an image — much of it shown live throughout the world — that cannot be unseen, even if McConnell wants that truth to simply disappear.
We should not dismiss the danger those crazies represent. But those who chose to block the commission are not crazies — not most of them anyway. They are political opportunists who unabashedly concede that their only concerns are how a commission report would affect Trump’s mood and, more to the point, how it would affect the 2022 midterm elections.
As Lisa Murkowski, one of six Republicans who voted for the commission, put it: “To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on January 6th, I think we need to look at that critically.”
She went on to say “Is that really what this is about, is everything just one election cycle after another?”
That is exactly what it’s about. In the Trump era, which is pretty much devoid of political ideology, keeping Trump happy and holding on to power are the twin premises that drive everything Republican leaders do. That’s how they could shamelessly ignore the pleas from Gladys Sicknick, mother of officer Brian Sicknick, who died after protecting those same senators in the Capitol assault, and from Sicknick’s partner, Sandra Garza, who came to the Capitol to seek votes for the commission. Only 16 of 50 Republicans were willing to meet with her.
No wonder that CNN’s website had this headline before the vote, in big bold letters: “Democracy at risk.”
That may have been a slight exaggeration. I think democracy will make it through the holiday weekend during which we ostensibly honor the brave men and women who laid down their lives for America. But the point is well taken.
The Big Lie is alive and well, and that’s what this vote ensured. It was McConnell who once directly blamed Trump for everything that happened on Jan. 6 and called out the Big Lie for what it is. Between then and now, he decided he must curry favor with a man who has called McConnell a “dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack” and a “stone-cold loser” among other niceties. And yet he reportedly asked Republicans to vote against the commission — vote against investigating the first full-on assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812 — as a personal favor to him. This is not the worst thing McConnell has ever done. But it’s on the list.
The funny/sad thing is that even if you’re a QAnon believer — and the polls remarkably show that something like a quarter of Republicans embrace Q conspiracies — and you think the Jan. 6 riot was a false flag to hurt Trump, you should still want a commission. The country is in desperate need of truth. Instead we get Republicans performing phony audits — or as fivethirtyeight.com calls it, a partisan inquisition — to try to prove elections were rigged.
I’ll just go back to Manchin, who diagnosed the Republican vote correctly, saying there was “no excuse” for opposing the commission. “Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections,” he said. “They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”
It’s up to Joe Biden to make clear to Manchin, and to the American public, what the stakes are here. If Democrats don’t end the filibuster, it is just an invitation for McConnell to run roughshod over them. McConnell admits his plan is to block Biden’s agenda whenever possible. It will take 50 Democrats plus one to change that metric. It’s on them if they don’t.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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