(CNN)The fate of an independent commission to investigate the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol will soon rest in the hands of Senate Republicans, many of whom are already signaling they may block the bill from moving forward with arguments that a commission isn’t necessary.
One top Senate Republican backtracked Tuesday from a prediction one day earlier that the commission proposal would pass in some form, while other senior Senate Republicans argued that the commission could get in the way of the investigations already underway into January 6 by the Justice Department and two Senate committees.
The hesitation raises the prospect that Senate Republicans will vote against the creation of a panel evenly split between Republicans and Democrats to examine the circumstances surrounding the January 6 insurrection.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was coy Tuesday about whether he would back the proposal, saying his conference was “undecided” and would have to look at the fine print of the House agreement before weighing in.
“I think I’m safe in characterizing our conference as willing to listen to the arguments about whether such a commission is needed,” McConnell told reporters.
The probe could shine an unflattering light on the former President Donald Trump, his supporters and members of Congress who sought to overturn the results of the election. The probe would come just as the party is gearing up to take back the majority.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the only Senate Republican who is up for reelection next year to vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial earlier this year, argued Trump would be a “key individual” for the commission to hear from.
“If you put together a commission that is focused on the events of January 6, I think he’s obviously a very key individual,” Murkowski said.
Looming large over the debate is what the commission would mean for a Republican Party that is split between those anxious to put Trump in the rearview window and those who view him as essential to the party’s future. Even Republican senators who want to move on from Trump have reservations about spending months relitigating events that were already covered in an impeachment trial and would put the former President back in the daily news cycle. Those who see Trump as key to Republicans’ chances of taking back the House and Senate are especially reticent about combing back through key moments that could divide the party once again.
The commission was a focal point at the Senate Republican private lunch Tuesday, where GOP leaders pointed to the work already underway in the Senate Rules and Homeland Security Committees. The committees’ Democrats and Republicans have been working for months on a bipartisan report examining the events of January 6, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
“You really need to demonstrate a need for a commission, because there will be a price, and not just the price of paying for the commission but the price of waiting for the commission to make its report before we do the things that we know we need to do,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of Republican leadership.
During the GOP’s lunch, one person in attendance also said that McConnell tried to educate senators on some of the key differences between the House’s current legislation and the rules governing the 9/11 commission. One key difference that GOP leadership pointed out was that under the House’s bill, the Democratic-appointed chair is given the power to hire staff “in consultation” with the vice chair, who would be appointed by Republicans. Republican senators argued that could favor Democrats.
“In the 9/11 commission, all the staff was picked together. They wouldn’t pick one unless both signed off on it, and this is not the way this is being done,” one Republican member who was at the lunch told CNN.
House Democratic aides responded that the language for hiring staff was identical to the legislation that created the 9/11 Commission.
Already, the commission has revealed schisms within the GOP in the House of Representatives.
Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy announced Tuesday he was opposed to the commission after Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on
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