Bid for Insurrection Commission Fails After Overnight Senate Debate

The Senate was in session past 2 a.m. but broke for the long holiday weekend Friday with no deal to create a commission studying the attempted overthrow of government witnessed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Gladys Sicknick, center, mother of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died from injuries sustained during the Jan. 6 mob attack on Congress, leaves a Thursday meeting with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin after advocating for creation of an independent commission to investigate the assault. She is escorted by Harry Dunn, left, a U.S. Capitol Police officer who faced the rioters on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — More than a dozen hours of Senate debate on calls for a commission to investigate the causes of the January 6 insurrection stretched overnight only to break Friday afternoon with lawmakers unable to muster a filibuster-proof majority.

On its second day of stalled negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer admonished Republicans who had signaled days before that they’d kill the bill when it came for a Senate vote.

“This is not a Democratic or a Republican obligation, this is an American obligation,” Schumer said. “Our Democracy, our beautiful, more-than-2-century-old Democracy is at more risk because of the lies that have been perpetrated by President Trump and his allies than it has been in a very long time, and this commission is a great antidote to that.”

In addition to the commission on the insurrection, lawmakers debated — to no denouement — a bill that would increase U.S. competition with China. Despite complaints from Republicans that the latter effort had ballooned past the point of recognition, members managed to eke out a deal to resume work on the issue on June 8, after the Memorial Day weekend.

The final vote was 54-35. Notably, Republican Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Ben Sasse, Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski voted to proceed to considering the legislation.

“There was an attempt by the Republican minority to shunt this vote into the dark of night, but because of today’s Senate time agreement, it was done in broad daylight,” Schumer said. “The American people will see how each Republican Senator voted.”

Debate on both bills opened Thursday with seemingly endless commotion over procedures and amendments. At times, the lawmakers would take to the floor to admonish one another; at others, they offered accolades for their ability to finally achieve bipartisanship on legislation and an open amendment session — which for the past four years has been seldom seen in congressional work. 

It was a little before midnight when Senator Ron Johnson broke the lull of the Senate to lament the U.S. ability to police the southwest border. Fellow Republican Senators Dan Sullivan of Alaska and John Kennedy of Louisiana argued that an amendment process hadn’t been designed with inclusivity to all members. There was no resolution on either bill. 

The Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol — which led to the deaths of five people and gave 140 Capitol Police officers injuries, including some who lost their sight and even one fingertip — was not enough to break the logjam.

Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat and former presidential hopeful, came to the Senate floor Thursday with an appeal to Republicans.

“We came here to accomplish the ministerial task we are required after a presidential election is concluded to certify the results of the election, the ballots of millions and millions of Americans who voted in the last election,” Bennet said. “That’s why we’re here. Unfortunately, we had a president at that time who denied the election actually happened.”

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who serves as the party’s whip, called it the senators’ responsibility to protect the U.S. Capitol from enemies foreign and domestic. He said generations are counting on lawmakers to recount what happened on Jan. 6, and to do so on a bipartisan basis.

“Surely all of us can appreciate the importance of working together to investigate why, for the first time in history, America was challenged when we were in the process of the peaceful transfer of power,” he said.

He added: “The events of that day are not fodder for political campaigns. If we allow the history of that day to be rewritten by the deniers, then shame on us.”

In February, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy penned a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, outlining requirements Republicans sought in order to create an investigative commission. Co-equal subpoena power and a membership of equal makeup between the parties were sticking points for the California Republican and remained an issue into Thursday night.  

House Homeland Security committee chairs reached consensus on the commission’s makeup and power three months after McCarthy’s letter. Shortly afterward, however, he attacked the idea as duplicative of what congressional committees were already undertaking.

Even so, 35 House Republicans backed the bill when it passed in that chamber by a 252-175 vote.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., rush to the chamber Thursday for votes ahead of the approaching Memorial Day recess. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In contrast to the consistent diversion lawmakers showed over the commission Thursday, there was a period where it seemed cohesion would advance the separate legislation on the $250 billion U.S. Innovation and Competition Act

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill initially circulated with the name of the Endless Frontiers Act stems from more than a year of work by half a dozen Senate committees.

Infighting over the 1,400-page tome began in earnest Wednesday when votes on several amendments also went late into the night. Come Thursday and lagging until the early hours Friday, that haggling morphed into hourslong stalemate on the floor over a limit to debate the entire bill.

Things looked optimistic when Schumer and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo agreed early on for an amendment that modernizes trade enforcement tools and pushes back against China’s use of forced labor in certain products. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden co-sponsored the amendment. It passed with the support of 94 senators. 

“For decades, the Chinese government has manipulated global competition and trade in their favor to grow at America’s expense,” Wyden said in a statement Thursday. “It rips off IP, steals technology and sends dangerous counterfeits to our market. It undercuts manufacturers with overproduction and unfair subsidies. It uses censorship and discriminatory digital policies against its own populations and American businesses alike. Worst of all is the practice of forced labor — morally repugnant on its own, and also a threat to American jobs.”

The bill would put together a little over $50 billion just for semiconductor manufacturing over five years and approve nearly $17 billion for energy supply-chain research and development spearheaded by the Department of Energy.

Semiconductor manufacturing is critical for the U.S. to establish given the product’s diverse uses. At present, the U.S. generates just 12% of the world’s semiconductors. Lawmakers hope that an infusion of more than $50 billion to the Department of Commerce to set up research and development programs will be enough to jumpstart innovation that will function under the National Semiconductor Technology Center and the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program.

“We’re definitely going in the wrong direction and this is very serious,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said late Thursday before negotiations broke down. “We can continue to invest in making things in America … or we can decide it’s really not worth the trouble anymore.”

Tucked into the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act is a notable overhaul of the National Science Foundation, which could breathe about $81 billion over four years in order to establish the Directorate for Technology and Innovation. That funding wouldn’t kick in until 2022. The NSF provision was sparked by another cross-aisle compromise. Schumer and Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, sponsored it. 

The bill also sets aside at least 20% of funding for the new NSF branch to support states that “historically receive low R&D funding,” a section-by-section summary states. Training programs for teachers, namely those in science, technology, education and mathematics in rural communities, are also a highlight of the act.   

For Schumer, and many other Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate, there may be another chance to revive the technology and competition bill since it has been in the works for years. But to form the commission probing the Capitol attack will be quite another feat in itself. 

The Senate majority leader said Thursday that the commission was not only about accountability but to combat the “cancer in the Republican party” that had accepted former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Schumer pointed to Republican legislatures like the one in Maricopa County, Arizona, that was even “researching for traces of bamboo fibers in the 2020 ballots, chasing a bananas-crazy, right-wing, internet conspiracy” China had rigged ballots for Biden.

“We have to investigate, expose and report on the truth,” he continued. “We need to establish a trusted record of what really transpired on January the 6th and the events that preceded it. That’s what this commission is designed to do in a bipartisan, straight-down-the-middle manner.”

During a stop to Honey Nut Ice Cream in Cleveland, Ohio, after delivering remarks about the state of the economy and stump for his administration’s infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden admonished those who could vote against forming the commission but did not elaborate on whether he thought one should be created.

“I can’t imagine anyone voting against establishing a commission on the greatest assault since the Civil War on the Capitol,” he said. “But anyway, I came for ice cream.”

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