McConnell denounces RNC censure of January 6 panel members

February 10, 2022

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) pushed back hard on February 8 against the Republican Party’s censure of Representatives Liz Cheney(R-Wyoming) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois); as well as its characterization of the January 6 attack as “legitimate political discourse”—saying the riot was a “violent insurrection,” reports The New York Times.

The remarks by a statesman whom the Times describes as “normally taciturn” added to a small but forceful chorus of G.O.P. lawmakers who have decried the action that the Republican National Committee took on February 4, when it officially rebuked Cheney and Kinzinger for participating in the House investigation of the January 6 attack—accusing them of “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

McConnell repudiated that description, saying of the events of January 6, 2021: “We saw it happen. It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election, from one administration to the next. That’s what it was.”

He made the remarks to reporters outside Senate Republicans’ closed-door weekly lunch, where his aides had signaled in advance that he was to make an important statement on the RNC’s action.

McConnell’s comments were a rebuke of how far the party has gone to deny the reality of the violence that unfolded during the bloody assault on the Capitol, sending lawmakers from both parties running for safety. More than 150 people were injured in the attack, which led to several deaths, and nearly 750 individuals have been criminally charged in connection with it.

In the days since the Republican National Committee passed the resolution at its winter meeting in Salt Lake City, a handful of Republicans have criticized the move as everything from a political distraction to a shame on the party.

McConnell—who orchestrated the impeachment acquittal of former President Donald Trump and blocked the naming of an independent, bipartisan commission to examine the attack—was among the most blunt in his defense of the only Republicans serving on the committee that rose from that proposal’s ashes.

“Traditionally, the view of the national party committees is that we support all members of our party, regardless of their positions on some issues,” he said. “The issue is whether or not the RNC. should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views of the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, by contrast, defended the resolution on Tuesday, telling a CNN reporter that it was meant to condemn the House committee’s targeting of conservatives who were nowhere near Washington on January 6 and had nothing to do with either the attack or the broader effort to overturn the 2020 election.

McCarthy, who has refused to speak with the House inquiry about his conversations with Trump during and around the January 6 attack, has been consulting with William A. Burck, a prominent Washington lawyer, about how to navigate the investigation as he braces for a possible subpoena.

According to the Times, the censure, pushed by allies of former president, was just over one page long, but it has sent Republicans into turmoil—exposing the party’s fissures while underscoring how its fealty to Trump continues to define everything it does. It has disrupted efforts by congressional Republicans to turn the page from January 6 and focus instead on what they see as the failings of President Biden and the Democratic Party in an election year.

At a news conference on Tuesday, House Republicans wanted to spend their time blaming Mr. Biden for a worsening fentanyl crisis, but virtually every question was about the party’s resolution.

“Republicans have been very clear, we condemn the violence on January 6. We also condemn the violence in 2020 as violent criminals attacked federal buildings including parts of Washington, D.C.,” said Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the House Republican Conference chairwoman—equating racial justice protests with the deadly assault on the Capitol. She added that “we believe the January 6 commission is political theater about punishing partisan opponents.”

But others were clearly appalled. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, who castigated the resolution as shameful on Friday, February 4, before the party vote, told reporters on Monday that he had exchanged texts about it with the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, who is also his niece.

“Anything that my party does that comes across as being stupid is not going to help us,” he said.

Research contact: @nytimes