RNC officially labels Jan. 6 attack on Capitol "legitimate political discourse"

The stunning statement of support comes as the Republican National Committee censures incumbent members of Congress

Published February 4, 2022 3:03PM (EST)

Thousands of Donald Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Thousands of Donald Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The Republican Party on Friday officially censured two of its members, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, for their role in investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and the events leading up to it. In its resolution, the Republican National Committee also declared the riot, whose stated goal was to delay the certification of President Joe Biden's electoral victory, as "legitimate political discourse."

The section in question reads: "WHEREAS, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led 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 ..."

It was a stunning statement of support for the deadliest attack on the U.S. Capitol in more than two centuries, and the furthest anyone in the party has gone in endorsing the tactics of the attackers who injured hundreds of police officers, caused several deaths and racked up millions of dollars in damage. The resolution itself was passed without any discussion in the Republican caucus, The New York Times reports.

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"We've had two members engage in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the Washington Post. "This has gone beyond their original intent. They are not sticking up for hard-working Republicans."

Following widespread outrage, McDaniel later amended her statement to say the Jan. 6 committee is "a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol."

Republicans have been batting around the idea of a censure vote against Cheney and Kinzinger for weeks now, as the party continues to downplay the seriousness of the Capitol attack and keep secret the details of a sustained campaign by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election using a variety of questionable methods. A number of far-right members have also called for the duo to be kicked out of the party conference, a push that is sure to gain steam following Friday's censure.

The vote also comes just days after Trump himself came close to openly endorsing the attempted insurrection — offering to consider pardons for the attackers should he be re-elected in 2024 and releasing a statement that his ultimate goal was indeed to "overturn" the election (though he did attempt to walk back the language in a subsequent statement, saying he instead wanted to "send back the votes for recertification or approval").

Friday's censure resolution also shows a remarkable about-face for Congressional GOP leadership, who in the hours after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol almost unanimously denounced the rioters — and Trump's role in egging them on to carry out violence on his behalf.

"The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a floor speech that night. "He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump."

RELATED: Donald Trump is done pretending. He is now openly celebrating the Capitol riot

When asked by reporters about the censure resolution, a number of House Republicans demurred, either ignoring the questions or labeling the entire thing a "distraction." Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas told the Times it was "dumb stuff," while Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee said the focus should instead be on "this abysmal administration's record."

Democrats seemed to have a more fully formed opinion on the matter.

"The Republican Party is so off the deep end now that they are describing an attempted coup and a deadly insurrection as political expression," said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a member of the Jan. 6 committee. "It is a scandal that historians will be aghast at, to think that a major political party would be denouncing Liz Cheney for standing up for the Constitution and not saying anything about Donald Trump's involvement in the insurrection."

The RNC's Democratic counterpart, the Democratic National Committee, put out a statement blasting McDaniel on Friday. 

"The Republican Party has no shame. Donald Trump incited his supporters to storm the Capitol, attack police officers, smear feces on the wall, and try to overturn an election — in no world is that 'legitimate political discourse.' Ronna McDaniel and the GOP keep reminding voters that there is no low they will not go to to protect Donald Trump and his chaos. 

Kinzinger, who is retiring from Congress following the end of his term this year, said in a statement that he has no regrets over his participation in the Jan. 6 investigation.

"I have no regrets about my decision to uphold my oath of office and defend the Constitution," he wrote. "I will continue to focus my efforts on standing for truth and working to fight the political matrix that's led us to where we find ourselves today."

Cheney, for her part, blasted her own party before the vote Thursday, saying that they had become "willing hostages to a man who admits he tried to overturn a presidential election and suggests he would pardon Jan. 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy."

By Brett Bachman

Brett Bachman was the Nights/Weekend Editor at Salon.

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