Standing before the families of fallen police officers on May 3, Mississippi’s junior U.S. senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, vowed to families of fallen law enforcement officers that she would oppose any “anti-law enforcement” agenda. She was apparently referring to members of Congress who want reforms to policing in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has brought attention to victims of police brutality.
“I cannot believe we are even having the discussion. I want you to know God is sovereign, God is still on his throne, and we are going to get through this,” Hyde-Smith told families at the event in Brookhaven, Miss., where a crowd was gathered for the renaming of a post office for officers who died in the line of service.
But today, a minority of 35 Republicans, including Hyde-Smith, used the filibuster to block consideration of an independent investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection that left five dead, including one Capitol Police officer.
The attackers, who arrived at the Capitol soon after then-President Trump urged supporters to “fight like hell” at a nearby rally, injured more than 140 other police officers as they sought to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. Hours after the attack, Hyde-Smith joined five other Republican senators who voted for Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election by refusing to certify Biden’s win.
‘A Vote For A Coverup’
Today, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman who drafted the Jan. 6 bill with New York Republican John Katko, issued a fiery statement denouncing the senators who filibustered the bill.
“To be clear, Senate Republicans today voted against finding the truth,” Thompson said. “They voted against the law enforcement that protect the Capitol every day. They voted against the integrity of our democracy.”
U.S. House Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat who previously served as the chief of the Orlando Police Department, said in a series of tweets today a “a vote against the commission is a vote for a coverup.” On his personal blog, Trump has urged Republicans in recent days to oppose an independent investigation into the insurrection.
“They blocked accountability for its funders and inciters,” Demings wrote today. “They turned their backs on the 140 officers who were beaten and bloodied. They shut the door in the faces of the families of the officers who died, who had begged them to support accountability.”
The Republican senators who voted for the commission include Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. All except Portman also voted to convict Trump for inciting the insurrection in his February impeachment trial. Though seven Republicans joined all Democrats voting to convict the former president, the body fell short of the two-thirds requirement.
In a statement this afternoon, Sen. Hyde-Smith said she believes the “shameful attack on our Capitol in January deserved to be investigated thoroughly,” but that “this Democratic proposal would enable a politically-skewed exercise that I cannot support.”
“There are, in fact, multiple bipartisan congressional investigations underway, including work by the Rules Committee,” the Mississippi senator said. “The Justice Department, FBI, and law enforcement are also actively pursuing the prosecution of those who broke the law as part of the January 6 riot. I support these ongoing activities and responsible efforts to improve security at the Capitol.”
But today, Sen. Cassidy said his fellow Republican colleagues’ votes ensured that, instead of “an independent commission, separate from Congress,” Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will likely set up a House select-committee, “the nature of which will be entirely dictated by Democrats and would stretch on for years.”
“The legislation I voted for ensured Republicans had equal power over the commission and set a deadline of December 31, 2021, to prevent a needlessly drawn-out process. … I am concerned about Speaker Pelosi’s role regarding the lack of adequate security at the Capitol on the day of the vote certification. It’s hard to believe that an investigation entirely run by Democrats would fully evaluate this concern,” the Louisiana Republican said.
“We can be more confident that the independent commission would thoroughly investigate this issue. The investigations will happen with or without Republicans. To ensure the investigations are fair, impartial, and focused on the facts, Republicans need to be involved.”
The Democrats and Republicans who backed an investigatory body akin to the 9/11 Commission said they did so because a commission’s findings would likely have more legitimacy with the public. An independent commission could also avoid the partisan grandstanding that has become an increasingly common feature during congressional committee hearings.
Wicker: Commission Would ‘Distract’ Investigators
“It is clear that the events of January 6 have been and will continue to be investigated by Congress and our law enforcement agencies,” Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, Roger Wicker, who voted to certify Biden’s win in January, said in a statement today. “It is my view that adding a new commission to this mix would inevitably delay and distract from the productive investigations already underway.”
As one example, Wicker cited the February impeachment proceedings against Trump that charged him with “incitement of insurrection.” In his statement, Wicker claimed “the impeachment proceedings … closely scrutinized the events of January 6.” But those proceedings did not even include witness testimony. Wicker and Hyde-Smith both voted against convicting Trump.
Rep. Thompson drafted the Jan. 6 bill with Republican Rep. John Katko of New York. The House passed it with support from 35 Republicans, including U.S. House Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi.
Though 54 U.S. senators voted for the bill’s passage, including six Republicans, the minority of 35 were able to defeat it using the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for passage of most legislation. Another 11 members did not vote because they left town early for vacation or for personal reasons.
‘A Slap In The Face To The Officers Who Did Their Jobs’
At the May 3 event in Brookhaven, Hyde-Smith made a vow to the families of fallen police officers.
“Most of all, we’re gonna stay with you. So when things come up in your life that you need, you can count on us,” she said. “You step out and you ask for that support when you need it. There’s nothing that would give any of us up here more honor than being able to help you with anything.”
But when the mother of fallen Officer Brian Sicknick showed up at the U.S. Capitol yesterday asking to speak with Republican senators to urge them to support the bill, Gladys Sicknick was unable to persuade Hyde-Smith.
“He and his fellow officers fought for hours and hours against those animals who were trying to take over the Capitol building and our democracy, as we know it,” Gladys Sicknick said in a statement yesterday. “While they were fighting, congressmen and senators were locking themselves inside their offices. … Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day. Because of what they did, the people in the building were able to go home that evening and be with their families.”
The Mississippi Free Press left messages with both Wicker and Hyde-Smith’s offices earlier to find out whether or not the senators had agreed to meet with Gladys Sicknick before their vote. So far, neither has responded.
In February, Hyde-Smith praised Officer Sicknick.
“Officer Brian Sicknick lost his life defending the U.S. Capitol and protecting democracy on January 6th. Today, we honor him, his heroic sacrifice, and the colleagues and family he leaves behind. May he rest in peace,” Hyde-Smith said in a statement on Feb. 3. Like Wicker, Hyde-Smith voted against convicting Trump during his impeachment trial for inciting the insurrection.
In her statement yesterday, Gladys Sicknick said that any members of Congress who do not “want to know the truth of what happened on January 6 … do not deserve to have the jobs they were elected to do.”
Hours after voting to block the Jan. 6 Commission today, Hyde-Smith released a statement on the Memorial Day holiday, saying that the “freedoms and liberties enjoyed by the American people came at a high price” and that “those who died for us deserve to be honored every day.”
Though some Democrats have pushed for the Senate to change or eliminate the filibuster to allow for passage with simple majorities, Wicker has repeatedly claimed the filibuster fosters “consensus building” by promoting debate and discussion. But his vote today cut off discussion, debate and consideration of the Jan. 6 bill, which Democrats had already changed to accommodate Republican demands.
Wicker backed the seven Benghazi investigations that congressional Republicans launched after a 2012 attack on a compound left four diplomats dead while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, with the Mississippi senator saying it was “time for the truth.” That included a U.S. House select committee investigation like the one Sen. Cassidy said Pelosi may now initiate to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Republican U.S. House Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is now the House minority leader, boasted in a 2015 Fox News interview that the investigations had hurt Clinton’s favorable ratings, which had hovered around 60% when she ended her tenure in the State Department.
“What you’re going to see is a conservative speaker, that takes a conservative Congress, that puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee,” McCarthy told Sean Hannity in 2015. “What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
Before those remarks, McCarthy was considered the GOP’s top pick to replace then-House Speaker John Boehner. After the interview drew negative headlines, though, Republican picked Rep. Paul Ryan instead. McCarthy later walked back the comments, saying the Benghazi select committee investigation was not partisan and that it was “beyond reproach.”
The Republican-led Congress concluded its last Benghazi investigation and disbanded the special select committee in December 2016—a month after Clinton lost the election, though it never produced any evidence of wrongdoing on Clinton’s part.
‘A Partisan Hit Job On President Trump’
McCarthy came out against the Jan. 6 commission when the U.S. House voted on it earlier this month, saying Pelosi was “(wasting) time playing political games.” But CNN reported earlier this week that McCarthy was “concerned” that a commission could call him to testify under oath about conversations he had with Trump on the day of the Capitol attacks.
When the U.S. House voted on the Jan. 6 commission earlier this month, Mississippi Republican Steven Palazzo claimed that Democrats wanted to do what McCarthy once suggested the Benghazi hearings had done to Clinton.
“If the Democrats move forward on a January 6 Commission without Republican support, the Americans will see their ‘findings’ for what they are: a partisan hit job on President Trump,” Palazzo wrote in a Facebook post.
But his fellow Mississippi Republican who voted for the Jan. 6 commission, Rep. Guest, had a different take.
“We need answers to questions surrounding the events of Jan. 6. I believe the long conversations that have happened over the last few months have produced a commission that is fair and is structured to find actions that Congress can take to prevent another such attack,” Guest said in a statement that Mississippi Today’s Will Stribling first reported.
‘They Fear It Would Hurt Them In The Next Election’
CNN reported yesterday that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has asked Republicans in recent days to vote against a Jan. 6 commission as a “personal favor” and that he had grown concerned that Gladys Sicknick would sway some members.
The former Senate majority leader, who hopes to regain his position in the 2022 congressional midterm elections, has told others in his party that he believes an independent commission would harm GOP electoral prospects.
Sen. Lisa Murkwoski, an Alaska Republican who voted for the commission, criticized McConnell and fellow Republicans yesterday.
“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 Jan. 6, I think we need to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about, one election cycle after another?” she said.
Speaker Pelosi said in a statement today that “Democrats worked across the aisle, agreeing to everything that Republicans asked for … in the interest of achieving a bipartisan commission.”
“Mitch McConnell asked Senate Republicans to do him a ‘personal favor’ and vote against the January 6th Commission. In doing so, Mitch McConnel asked them to be complicit in his undermining of the truth of January 6th,” the California Democrat said. “In bowing to McConnell’s personal favor request, Republican senators surrendered to the January 6th mob assault.”
But “Democrats will proceed to find the truth,” she vowed. Pelosi did not say whether or not that would include creating a special select committee.
In the House Homeland Security Committee statement today, Rep. Thompson offered his thanks to “the few Senate Republicans that stood up for the truth and our democracy today,” but said “it is shameful that most acceded to Mitch McConnell’s personal request that they filibuster this bipartisan bill investigate the domestic terrorism attack on the Capitol.”
“Moreover, it is appalling that after hearing from Officer Brian Sicknick’s mother, Mitch McConnell chose this critical bipartisan homeland security bill as the first measure to be filibustered this year,” Thompson continued. “Since the House passed the January 6 Commission Act with 35 Republican votes, Democrats have met Senate Republicans more than halfway, even as some Republican senators continue to misrepresent this legislation.
“It is reprehensible to see House and Senate Republican leaders repeatedly move the goalposts and brazenly acknowledge that they want the commission blocked because they fear it would hurt them in the next election. To be clear, Senate Republicans today voted against finding the truth. They voted against the law enforcement that protect the Capitol every day. They voted against the integrity of our democracy.”