One of those Republicans told CNN that McConnell has even made the unusual move of asking wavering senators to support filibustering the bill as “a personal favor” to him.
“No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a ‘personal favor’ to kill the commission,” said the Republican.
A McConnell aide told CNN that he was not aware of all of McConnell’s private conversations but said that what the Kentucky Republican says privately is no different than what he says publicly.
McConnell’s blunt appeal comes as Gladys Sicknick, the mother of fallen Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick, is meeting with GOP senators to encourage them to support the 9/11 style commission to investigate the events of January 6; 14 GOP senators agreed to talk to her on Thursday. The two Republicans familiar with McConnell’s effort say it suggests the GOP leader is doing everything he can to make sure the bill does not move forward.
Only three Republican senators so far have expressed their support for the commission: Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Democrats would need a total of 10 Republican senators to break a GOP filibuster in order to advance the bill.
Collins, of Maine, has worked to tweak the bill to respond to McConnell’s concerns but the minority leader is still opposing the commission. After meeting with Sicknick, Collins said she thinks her amendment to fix the “flaw” in the House bill addressed the major objection to the bill, and that she has secured the agreement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her amendment.
“My hope is that we can get, with this amendment, a sufficient number of Republicans to pass the bill. We owe it to the brave men and women who defended our lives that day. And in some cases did so at the cost of their lives. And that’s why I feel so strongly about that,” she said.
While Republican leaders believe there could be some defections in the ranks, they don’t believe there will be 10, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter. Leadership believes the case they’ve made to their members has taken hold: That the commission would be used for political gain by Democrats and would undercut GOP efforts to take back the majority in both the House and the Senate.
But McConnell’s maneuvers this week show he’s leaving nothing to chance, especially after 35 House Republicans voted in support of the bill, going against the wishes of GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Hours before that vote on May 19, McConnell came out against the commission in a statement on the Senate floor.
He’d previously spent days voicing his skepticism about the legislation privately among his fellow Republican senators.
Other members of the GOP conference fell in line behind McConnell against the bill last week, including Sen. Richard Burr, the retiring North Carolina Republican who voted to convict Donald Trump in January. Burr issued a statement last Thursday opposing the House bill.
According to one Republican on Capitol Hill, McConnell sent an email to the rest of the GOP conference highlighting and recommending Burr’s statement.
But despite those overt signals, Republicans say the Kentucky senator has been even more insistent this week as the debate on the January 6 bill in the Senate approached. According to the other Republican familiar with the effort, McConnell made an impassioned case against the commission to a group of GOP senators behind closed doors this week.
“I’ve made my position pretty clear,” McConnell told CNN’s Manu Raju when asked if he was lobbying his colleagues hard on this.
Despite his opposition to a commission to further investigate the Capitol riot, McConnell has publicly stated that the events of January 6 were encouraged by Trump.
“Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” said McConnell in a February floor speech after he voted to acquit Trump on a single article of impeachment. “Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
McConnell was also telling Republican colleagues after January 6 that he wanted Trump “gone” and hoped the Republican Party would move on from him.
But since then, McConnell seems to have accepted Trump’s continued popularity within the party. Less than two weeks after his floor speech condemning Trump, he told Fox News’ Bret Baier he would “absolutely” support the 2024 Republican nominee for president, even if that nominee is Trump.