Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell rips RNC for censuring Cheney, Kinzinger over probe of pro-Trump Capitol riot

Key Points
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday admonished the Republican National Committee for censuring GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
  • Cheney and Kinzinger were censured for participating in the House probe of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
  • Jan. 6 was "a violent insurrection," McConnell said, pushing back on the RNC description of that day's events as "legitimate political discourse."
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calls Jan. 6 a 'violent insurrection,' criticizes RNC over censure

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday admonished the Republican National Committee for voting to censure two of the party's members, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, over their participation in the House probe of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

McConnell also pushed back on the language of the RNC's resolution, which used the words "legitimate political discourse" to describe the events of Jan. 6.

"We all were here. We saw what happened," McConnell said at a news conference when asked to comment on that resolution.

"It was a violent insurrection with 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," McConnell said.

"With regard to the suggestion that the RNC should be in the business of picking and choosing Republicans who ought to be supported, 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 added.

Cheney and Kinzinger are the only Republicans on the nine-member House select committee, which is tasked with investigating the facts and causes of the deadly riot. On Jan. 6, 2021, a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol, attacking police officers, destroying property and forcing lawmakers into hiding.

The resolution text called the probe "a persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse, and they are both utilizing their past professed political affiliation to mask Democrat abuse of prosecutorial power for partisan purposes."

The text of the resolution also accused Cheney and Kinzinger of engaging in actions "which seem intent on advancing a political agenda to buoy the Democrat Party's bleak prospects in the upcoming midterm elections" through their work on the select committee.

That measure passed, reportedly with almost no dissent, on Friday at the RNC's annual meeting in Salt Lake City.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, who initially echoed the language of the resolution in a Washington Post interview, later issued a statement that separated the so-called legitimate political discourse from the violent riot.

Cheney and Kinzinger "chose to join [House Speaker] 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," McDaniel's later statement said.

But the text of the resolution itself made no such distinction, and its apparent description of the riot soon prompted a tidal wave of backlash, including from a growing number of Republicans.

"It could not have been a more inappropriate message," said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who is McDaniel's uncle. "Anything that my party does that comes across as being stupid is not going to help us" in the upcoming midterm elections, he added, after noting that McDaniel is a "wonderful person" and "doing her very best."

Asked on Tuesday if he had confidence in McDaniel, McConnell said, "I do, but the issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority."

"That's not the job of the RNC," he said.

Asked for comment on McConnell's remarks, an RNC spokesperson said that the committee "has repeatedly condemned all acts of political violence and lawlessness, including what occurred on Jan. 6."

"Unfortunately, this committee has gone well beyond the scope of the events of that day, and is why the RNC overwhelmingly passed a resolution censuring Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger," the spokesperson said.

After the RNC's vote Friday, Cheney tweeted a brief video montage showing rioters violently clashing with police at the Capitol, spraying officers with chemical irritants, and attacking them with flagpoles and, in at least one instance, a hockey stick.

"This was January 6th," she wrote in the tweet. "This is not 'legitimate political discourse.'"

Not all Republican leaders have spoken out against the RNC's resolution.

"My reaction is the RNC has every right to take any action," Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday when asked about the move to censure two Republican members.

Stefanik, a loyalist of Trump, replaced Cheney as the No. 3-ranking House Republican last year after the conference stripped Cheney of her title for refusing to stop criticizing Trump.

"The position that I have is that you're ultimately held accountable to voters in your district, voters who you represent, and we're going to hear the feedback and the views of voters pretty quickly," Stefanik said.