Hours before the House was set to vote on legislation that would establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have put the kibosh on the whole endeavor.
“After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to oppose the House Democrats slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January 6th,” said McConnell on the Senate floor. “As everybody surely knows, I repeatedly made my views about the events of January 6th very clear. I spoke clearly and left no doubt about my conclusions.”
While House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy got loads of (mostly) negative attention for his announcement earlier this week that he opposed the commission – despite authorizing fellow Republican Rep. John Katko of New York to hammer out an agreement with Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi – McConnell’s move is likely more impactful.
The Democratic-led House will pass the commission legislation later Wednesday, and there are likely to be at least some Republican votes for it. But, with McConnell now on the record against the bill, it’s hard to see 10 Senate Republicans crossing the aisle to end debate on the measure in the upper chamber. And, if that doesn’t happen, the commission legislation will, effectively, wither on the vine.
The chess pieces began moving – against the bill – shortly after McConnell’s announcement. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who has been considered a potential “yes” vote for the commission, changed to a “no.” Maine Sen. Susan Collins, one of a handful of Republicans who has shown a willingness, on occasion, to buck her party, said that she wouldn’t support the bill unless its work was guaranteed to be concluded before 2022.
For regular watchers of McConnell, all of this will feel very familiar.
Remember back to the days after the January 6 riot when McConnell sent signals that he would be open to voting to convict then-President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial for his actions (and inaction) that day.
“I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote in a letter to his Republican Senate colleagues just hours after the House had impeached Trump for a second time.
But, when the Senate voted on whether to convict Trump, McConnell was not one of the seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict. And, in so doing, McConnell provided cover for lots (and lots) of Republicans either up in 2022 or in swing states to oppose the Trump impeachment too.
Of course, in the immediate aftermath of that vote, McConnell took to the Senate floor to denounce Trump for his role in the riot.
“Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” said McConnell. “Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” (McConnell explained that he had voted against impeachment because he did not believe a former president could be impeached).)
But, despite that forceful denunciation – “dereliction of duty”! – McConnell has still found a way to oppose a bipartisan agreement to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6.
If this feels a little bit like Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football, that’s because it is. McConnell seems to get the benefit of the doubt each time he allegedly ponders a moderate course that would run counter to the wishes of Trump. And yet, every single time – without fail! – McConnell winds up finding a way to vote Trump’s way.
Remarkable! Also, not a coincidence since McConnell knows that the GOP base remains utterly loyal to Trump – and that the only path to taking back the Senate majority in 2022 (or beyond) is with a riled-up Republican base.
As South Dakota Sen. John Thune, McConnell’s deputy in leadership, told CNN’s Manu Raju on Wednesday: “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections I think is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda.”