A Love Lost: The Senate and Me

By Jamie Stiehm

June 2, 2021 5 min read

WASHINGTON — I loved the Senate once — I thought for good — until midnight Friday.

Hours later, Senate Republicans failed America by blocking a bipartisan commission to get at the truth of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.

The House already gave its blessing to a blueprint like the 9/11 Commission, with 35 Republican votes.

The blame was all the Senate's, the clubby "upper chamber."

Walking there in the noonday sun, I was ready to stay all day. As a witness to the deadly winter siege, I had to show faith in the arc bending toward justice.

But the Senate seemed like a stuck ship. Hours passed on the Ohio Clock.

With nothing going on, no planes to catch, senators and journalists had more time to talk. We let our hair down and took our masks off for the first time.

Glad I saved a chicken salad sandwich from the basement carryout.

Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, scolded all opposing the bill, saying the House gave Republicans an equal say in setting up the commission.

An Ohio senator told me on the elevator the Jan. 6 bill wasn't going to pass.

What did he know? I still had hope for a Hollywood ending in Washington.

For example, I saw Officer Eugene Goodman, the valiant police officer who diverted the mob in the wrong direction. Standing sentry by the Senate door, he was keeping senators safe —again.

Members of the Senate had a close call, running down an antique staircase, escaping the mob's fury with seconds to spare.

Over in the House chamber, we heard gunshots, breaking glass and howls that didn't sound human.

There were thousands, wielding weapons, injuring 140 police officers who defended us from harm. They scaled the walls of the temple.

A Republican woman's words rang true: The truth was hard stuff.

"An independent commission can provide answers we need," Lisa Murkowski, the senior Alaska senator, told a scrum of reporters. "There's more to be learned."

Or, she asked, "Is everything just one election after another?"

She fit my storyline. The 50 Democrats only needed nine more Republicans like her to win the showdown.

Then a chilling thought in the press gallery: The Trumpian mob picked up where the 9/11 hijackers left off. The plane to hit the Capitol was thwarted, 20 minutes away in the turquoise sky.

Of course, we know the Capitol was the intended target of the doomed plane that passengers took down — thanks to the 9/11 Commission report.

So, the stage was set, but the players — the 100 senators — were mostly off-stage and strangely muted in speeches.

Just a few Democrats spoke forcefully for the bill. No Republicans stood up to criticize a commission.

The invisible hand of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, was at work. He whipped his caucus into a state of stonewalling apathy.

So much for healing democracy. So much for banishing Trump from the realm, Mitch.

I got decidedly glum. The stakes were as high as they could be. What was missing from the drama: giants of the Senate.

Chatting with a leading Washington journalist, we recalled our rookie days when a number of senators were truly great speakers and statesmen.

It was a fun game.

As we waited for anything to happen, we named names from both sides, saying how lucky we were to cover the Senate then.

Daniel Webster was long gone, but the late Edward M. Kennedy was just as good. Both Massachusetts senators roared like lions and held the floor for hours.

Now the Senate had to deal with Trumpian Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, holding up business at 11 at night, suggesting a three-hour break so he could read new amendments.

Johnson made cheeks burn. To recover, I visited a Reception Room portrait of Robert LaFollette Sr., the Wisconsin Progressive and one of history's greats.

The morning vote was 54 for a commission, 35 opposed. But still, it failed under the filibuster rule of 60.

A long love was broken. The vote was not even the knell.

I never dreamt 11 senators would miss such an important vote to catch their planes. Kind of broke my heart.

Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.

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