The top two Republican leaders in Congress were at odds Tuesday over the Republican National Committee’s recent resolution that formally censured GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for serving on the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, pressed by CNN’s Manu Raju on the RNC’s decision to refer to that day as “legitimate political discourse” in the resolution, said that what occurred on January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol was “a violent insurrection.”
“We all were here. We saw what happened,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday. “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.”
In a rare break with the RNC, McConnell said the committee should not be “singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority,” adding that it’s “not the job of the RNC.”
“Traditionally, the view of the national party committees is we support all members of our party, regardless of their positions on some issues,” he said.
He noted, however, that he still has confidence in RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, meanwhile, defended the RNC’s use of “legitimate political discourse,” claiming that the RNC had been referring to the House select committee’s subpoenas to RNC officials who were in Florida at the time of the Capitol attack.
“Anybody who broke in and caused damage, that was not called for. Those people, we’ve said from the very beginning, should be in jail,” McCarthy told CNN.
The California Republican did not name the individuals, but one of his aides said that McDaniel informed him that there were six RNC members targeted by the panel. An RNC official confirmed the two discussed six “current and former RNC officials” who have been subpoenaed by the panel and referred CNN to a list of individuals who have come under scrutiny.
On that list, the committee had targeted some current and former RNC members to probe the effort to use fake electors in swing states in an apparent attempt to allow them to be used as alternates to a duly elected slate.
Included in that group of subpoenas were David Shafer, chairperson of the Georgia GOP; Kathy Berden, a national committeewoman; Michael J. McDonald, the chair of the Nevada GOP; James DeGraffenreid, national committeeman from Nevada for the RNC; and Andrew Hitt, the former chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party.
It’s still unclear which of the six RNC officials who received letters from the panel were in Florida on January 6.
Nevertheless, the RNC resolution makes no mention of the matter that McCarthy sought to highlight. Instead, it condemns Cheney of Wyoming and Kinzinger of Illinois, the two lone Republicans on the select committee, for engaging in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
Asked by Raju if he supported the resolution, McCarthy didn’t respond. Asked later by CNN’s Annie Grayer to respond to the RNC’s characterization, McCarthy replied: “Yeah, everybody knows there was. Anyone who broke inside was not.”
Some GOP lawmakers have been frustrated over the RNC’s decision to reopen the party’s divide over January 6 ahead of the 2022 midterms, instead wanting to focus the discourse on President Joe Biden. Other members of Republican leadership, like Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota, who called the RNC’s resolution “not a constructive move” and unhelpful to winning elections, have also criticized the committee’s decision to censure two members of their party.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday pushed back on the RNC’s characterization of January 6, saying it’s “clear to Americans that what happened on January 6 was not legitimate political discourse.”
“Storming the Capitol in an attempt to hold the peaceful transition of power is not legitimate political discourse, neither is attacking and injuring over 140 police officers, smashing windows and defiling offices,” she told reporters.
The RNC on Friday tried clarifying the use of the words “legitimate political discourse” in its resolution and drew a distinction between those who had not committed violence on January 6 and the rioters who had violently stormed the US Capitol.
“Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger crossed a line,” McDaniel said in a statement. “They chose to join Nancy Pelosi in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol.”
On Tuesday, McDaniel again defended the RNC resolution, ignoring the criticism from some Senate Republicans.
“As I have repeatedly stated, violence is not legitimate political discourse – whether in the U.S. Capitol or in Democrat-run cities across the country – and neither is abusing Congress’ investigatory powers for political gain,” she wrote in an op-ed for conservative site Townhall.
This story has been updated with additional details Tuesday.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Morgan Rimmer, Donald Judd and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.