Susan Collins is making a last-ditch attempt to broker a bipartisan compromise on the independent Jan. 6 commission, even as Republican leaders rush to quash the panel.
The moderate Mainer finished her revisions to the House-passed commission bill Wednesday afternoon, hoping to avoid a Republican filibuster that could occur as soon as Thursday. Collins made two key tweaks that she’s hoping can win some more Republican votes, although she faces a potential uphill battle with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I want to have a commission. The House bill needs to be improved. And one of the flaws of the House bill is that it has the chairman essentially appointing all of the staff,” Collins said. “For the commission to be successful it has to be nonpartisan and we know that if it’s stacked with partisan staff that it will get off to a bad start.”
She declined to say whether or not she can get nine more Republicans to go along with her — a necessity to pass the bill. But she did say she will vote this week to break a filibuster and that “most people that I talk to believe that this would improve the bill regardless of whether they’re for the commission or not.”
If Republicans filibustered the bill it would not only sink the chances of a bipartisan commission but also ramp up calls by progressive Democrats who want to ax the filibuster entirely.
Under Collins’s new language, the chair and vice chair of the committee would “jointly” appoint staff — a modification made due to GOP fears that the Democratic majorities in Congress could tip the scales of the panel’s staff. If the chair and vice chair happen to deadlock for 10 days after the panel is formed, Collins’s text would allow the two sides to appoint their own staff.
Collins would also wind down the panel 30 days after the commission submits its final report at the end of the year, rather than 60.
It’s unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would support her changes; he warned this week of the possibility of “warring” staffs if the commission leaders deadlocked. He also gave a speech on Wednesday urging Republicans to advance the bill.
Collins said at a bill signing last week that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer both said her approach is “reasonable.” The bigger question is among Republicans, who heard a presentation from Collins on Tuesday.
She acknowledged that “there are a variety of views in the caucus.”
Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are supportive of Collins’s changes. And Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also showed interest in supporting them at a Tuesday party lunch, according to attendees. However, several other senators spoke out against the commission, including McConnell.
Several Republicans have voiced concerns that regardless of how the commission bill is written, it will bleed into the midterms. Romney acknowledged that argument but said that “whether or not this commission exists, the House and the Senate will be having those kinds of investigations anyway.” And those would be led by Democratic chairs.
In part, Collins and Romney are responding to a plea from Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to work with them on a solution. Those two Democrats oppose changing the Senate’s filibuster rules but put out a joint statement on Tuesday imploring “our Senate Republican colleagues to work with us to find a path forward.”
Even as those members seek a middle ground, most Republicans have hardened their opposition against the commission concept itself. McConnell and his leadership team are surveying members about their position, with McConnell making forceful public and private arguments against it.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is close to McConnell, said he was confident that congressional committees can complete a probe more quickly and with less drama than a commission.
“They want the 2022 elections to be a referendum on President Trump. And we think we can do our due diligence without giving them a political platform,” Cornyn said. “So it’s pretty much about that simple for me.”