Senior Republicans are making clear they have little interest in moving forward with a sweeping January 6 investigation in part because a detailed probe could become politically damaging and amount to a distraction for their party just as control of Congress is at stake in next year’s midterm elections.
Publicly and privately, Republicans are making that case, with Senate GOP Whip John Thune noting that there’s concern among some GOP members that the findings of the probe “could be weaponized politically and drug into next year.”
“I want our midterm message to be on the kinds of things that the American people are dealing with: That’s jobs and wages and the economy and national security, safe streets and strong borders – not relitigating the 2020 elections,” Thune told CNN. “A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward. Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections I think is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast between us and the Democrats’ very radical left-wing agenda.”
Thune’s comments came moments after Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition on the floor, contending it would duplicate ongoing probes and contending the deal – which was reached between a House Republican and House Democrat – is designed to find a conclusion that would be in “Democrats’ hands.”
The commission would be structured so 10 members – chosen equally between the leaders from both political parties – could report by year’s end on what happened on January 6, as well as the “influencing factors” behind it. Yet Democrats are already discussing Plan B: To create a select committee in the House to investigate the attack, something that wouldn’t need GOP support to establish.
It’s clear that any such an investigation would also look at then-President Donald Trump’s role in promoting the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, his lies that the election was stolen and his efforts to subvert the will of voters. Moreover, it could put an uncomfortable focus on some conservative GOP senators and House members who sought to overturn the election results in Congress, while keeping the issue front-and-center as the investigation plays out over the next year.
And there are ample questions about whether House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy would be forced to testify to explain what Trump was saying on January 6 given the two spoke during a heated phone call that day.
“It would be a distraction,” one senior GOP source told CNN, arguing any investigation should also look at left-wing extremism as well.
Similar concerns were voiced through the Senate Republican Conference on Wednesday, coming hours after a group of members huddled privately with McCarthy earlier in the morning.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of leadership, said that in addition to his concern about a commission’s work overlapping with criminal probes, he accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of pushing the investigation to help Democrats’ chances at keeping control of Congress.
“Well, part of the concern is that’s the plan,” Cornyn said. “That’s Pelosi’s plan.”
If the probe dragged out until the next year, he added: “That would be the Democrats’ dream. … I generally don’t try to help Democrats.”
While the bill is expected to pass the House on Wednesday, the measure faces high hurdles in the Senate after the opposition voiced by McConnell and other Republicans. Ten GOP senators would be needed to break ranks to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. But even some Republicans who voted to convict Trump of inciting the January 6 insurrection are undecided if they’d back the plan, including Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
“I also think it’s important that this be independent and non-partisan and that means that we should make sure that the work is done this year – and does not go over into the election year,” said Collins, who wants changes to the bill’s language. “There’s plenty of time to complete the work.”
But even if the bill fails in the Senate, a select committee in their chamber would give Democrats unilateral subpoena power and be comprised of members of the House. An outside commission, on the other hand, would not be comprised of sitting lawmakers and would require both sides to agree to issue subpoenas.
Democrats have been resistant to go the route of a select committee, knowing that Republicans would attack such a probe as partisan. But Pelosi made clear Wednesday that if Republicans block the commission in the Senate, the issue isn’t going away – and they may take matters in their own hands.
“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,” Pelosi told reporters. “But that’s not the path we have chosen to go.” Pelosi added: “It’s a question of, if they don’t want to do this, we will.”
Pelosi’s No. 2, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said “of course” he’d pursue a select House committee if the commission vote fails in the other body.
Senate GOP leaders said they were unsure how the vote in their chamber would end up, with Thune, the chief GOP vote counter, saying they haven’t taken his conference’s temperature yet on the plan.
“I would say that there’s a skepticism about what’s happening in the House right now and whether or not what comes out is a proposal that will be fair,” Thune said.
Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said there’s a reason why Republicans are battling the commission.
“They’re afraid of the truth because it puts them on the wrong side of what is right,” Peters, a Michigan Democrat, said Wednesday.
Yet Republicans are speaking openly about their concerns that the probe could take away from the issues that they believe should be the prime focus heading into the election year.
Asked if he is concerned the probe could last into the midterm season when the GOP wants to focus on jobs, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said: “There’s a lot of stuff we need to focus on.”
“Why shift our attention away from that, when we already have an infrastructure in place to address a lot of the things that the commission seems to be stood up to address,” Tillis asked. “Seems redundant.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.