By Manu Raju, Ted Barrett and Ali Zaslav, CNN
Updated: Tue, 18 May 2021 00:12:00 GMT
Senate Minority Whip John Thune predicted Monday that his chamber would pass a bill to establish a bipartisan commission probing the January 6 attack "in some form" and seemed content on focusing mainly on the events that transpired at the Capitol, splitting with other GOP leaders who want the investigation to dig into left-wing extremism as well.
But Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said he assumes the bill to create the independent probe will pass "with a pretty big margin" in the House. "So my assumption at some point it gets done here in some form."
Thune also seemed open to keeping the probe mostly focused on what happened on January 6. "I think, and again, I'm just reacting to what the reporting on what the House has done, but I think it needs to be principally focused on what happened on the sixth."
The bill, which is expected to pass the House this week, would require the bipartisan commission to report on its findings by year's end, examining both the attack on the Capitol and the "influencing factors" behind it.
But not all Republican leaders are on the same page.
"I don't know why you would tie their hands if they want to pursue some other connection," said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of leadership. "I mean, I'd be surprised if anything they find out about January 6th fully developed on that day. So I would not tie their hands."
Asked about the "influencing factors" that the commission would investigate, Cornyn also seemed skeptical.
"Why can't they just follow the evidence where it leads?" Cornyn said.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, was even more resistant to the idea of a commission.
"My view has been, and continues to be, that there's not much we're going to find out about January the sixth in terms of making decisions here with the Capitol police and the police board that we don't already know, and I think the commission will slow down having those decisions made," he said.
Blunt added: "I doubt there's much value in it, and I'm absolutely sure it will slow down doing what we need to do right now on the Capitol security issues."
But Rep. John Katko, a New York Republican who helped draft the bipartisan legislation to create the January 6 commission, told CNN that the investigators would have the discretion to look into protests by Black Lives Matter and Antifa violence if they chose to go that route.
"It's subject to interpretation by the commission," Katko said when asked if they could look into those issues. He added that while the bill has "got some flexibility," but the probe has to be "in relation to January 6."
The assurance by Katko, who has been briefing his GOP colleagues on the bill, could help win over some GOP skeptics who believe the probe should also include a look at left-wing violence as well. The bill is expected to pass the House on Wednesday, though House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and his top lieutenants have yet to take a position on it. GOP leaders have indicated they won't whip their colleagues to take a certain position on the bill.
When asked about McCarthy not backing the bill yet, Katko said: "Everybody has their own choice. It's not a big deal."
Asked if he believed McCarthy would have to testify before the commission about his conversations with former President Donald Trump on January 6, Katko said, "That's up to the commission. Don't forget it's both sides. Both sides have to agree."
Once it passes the House, though, backers of the measure will have to win over enough Republican senators. And GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Monday that he thinks the scope needs to be broadened in order to get 60 votes in the Senate.
"I'd prefer to broaden it because there's more things wrong in this country than just what happened on January the sixth," Grassley said.
The discussion comes as the House is moving to pass both the bill to establish the commission and another bill to provide roughly $2 billion for security upgrades across the Capitol campus. But both would need at least 60 votes to overcome any filibuster attempt in the Senate, meaning at least 10 Republicans would need to join 50 Democrats for the measures to get to President Joe Biden's desk.
Republicans are also uncertain about backing the funding package.
Asked about the security spending package, Thune said Republicans have yet to review it.
"I think there was some hesitancy over here about it, at least initially, but we'll see," Thune said. "At this point I don't know that there's, you know, anybody's got any hard fast positions over here just yet."
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.