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Politics Chat: Jan 6 Commission Reveals A Divided Congress

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Going into this holiday weekend, there was yet another demonstration of the divisions in Congress and in the Republican Party. Joining me for now what seems like a tale as old as time is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning. I won't make you sing that tune.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: (Laughter) Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning. All right. We had the first filibuster of this new 50/50 Senate over the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, which we still don't know a whole lot about. The vote to bring this bill up for debate did not reach the threshold of 60. Instead, it was 54-35, with six Republicans in favor. Mara, what happened?

LIASSON: Yes, this was the first successful filibuster of this Senate. And according to the rules, you need 60 votes to pass any piece of major legislation. Fifty-four voted yes, so you had a big bipartisan majority of senators. You would have had 57 because of the 11 senators who didn't even show up, three of them said they would have voted yes - that's Republican Pat Toomey and Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Patty Murray. But even 57 wouldn't have been enough because it takes 60.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this, of course, has once again ignited the debate about the filibuster. We just saw Congressman Conor Lamb, a moderate Democrat from Pennsylvania, among the latest of those saying it has to go.

LIASSON: Yes, there - this is increasing calls and pressure on the Democrats to amend or abolish the filibuster. This rule has been amended before. It used to take 67 votes to break a filibuster. Now it's 60. The Senate has carved out an exception for budget bills called reconciliation. They can't be filibustered. Some Democrats say that you should have to stand on the floor and talk if you want to filibuster, like Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." But the bottom line is, it would take 51 votes to get rid of the filibuster, and Democrats have 50 senators plus the tie-breaking vote of the vice president. And they don't have all 50 Democrats who want to get rid of the filibuster. Joe Manchin, senator from West Virginia, says he doesn't want to do it. And until Democrats have the votes, the filibuster cannot be changed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's get back to the GOP's overall opposition to this bipartisan commission. Why were they so against it?

LIASSON: They weren't always against it. Right after the January 6 attack, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy actually floated the idea of an independent commission, like the one that was put together to look into the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but then Donald Trump said he didn't want it. And right now, the most important thing for Republicans is not to get crosswise with Trump because they think it will hurt their chances to get back control of the House and Senate in 2022.

You know, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has said that a commission would hurt the Republicans' 2022 electoral message and give Democrats a political weapon, and it would shine a spotlight on what Donald Trump did and said that day. Republicans could be subpoenaed. What contacts did Republican congressmen have - congresspeople have with some of the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol? So Republicans do not see this in their political interest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So then what happens to this issue? I mean, this was unprecedented. Will it just not get investigated?

LIASSON: Yeah, this was the worst attack on American democracy since the War of 1812. Some of the senators who voted no could have been killed that day. But there are investigations going on. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could create a select committee. But what many people viewed as the most credible format for an investigation, a outside, bipartisan, independent panel of experts to investigate the January 6 attack, that is not going to happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.