If the Republican National Committee was striving for party “unity,” it failed spectacularly. Late last week, the RNC not only censured two of their conservative members without cause, it also accused the Jan. 6 committee of engaging in “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
Ever since, leading Republican voices have been forced to take sides, either endorsing or criticizing their party’s avoidable mess. Yesterday, as NBC News reported, Congress’ most powerful GOP official decided it was his turn to weigh in.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell disagreed Tuesday with the Republican National Committee’s recent censure of two GOP lawmakers, as well as its characterization of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“We all were here; we saw what happened,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters, referring to the events of Jan. 6. “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.”
As for the RNC’s censure of two sitting House Republicans — Wyoming’s Liz Cheney and Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger — the Senate minority leader didn’t appear pleased about that, either.
The RNC shouldn’t be “in the business of picking and choosing Republicans who ought to be supported,” McConnell added. “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.”
Stepping back, we now see a Republican Party in which the House and Senate leaders are saying different things; the Senate minority leader is publicly rebuking his own party’s tactics; the RNC is denouncing two of its own members; and the Senate Republican conference has spent the last several days divided.
Indeed, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri added yesterday, “Listen, whatever you think about the RNC vote, it reflects the view of most Republican voters. In my state, it’s not helpful to have a bunch of D.C. Republicans commenting on the RNC.”
Democratic officials sometimes look for ways to pit Republicans against one another. In this instance, Republicans apparently decided to divide themselves entirely on their own.
As for McConnell, I’m perfectly comfortable giving the Senate minority leader credit for saying the right things yesterday. He knew these questions were coming, and he could’ve prepared an artful dodge or two, but the Kentuckian instead accurately described the Jan. 6 attack — in ways many in his party are highly reluctant to do — and called out the Republican National Committee. Good for him.
But the larger context is less flattering.
This is the same Mitch McConnell who said he would “absolutely“ support Donald Trump’s 2024 candidacy, despite the former president’s role in what the senator described as “a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.” It’s also the same Mitch McConnell who hasn’t announced his opposition to any anti-election candidates running in Republican Senate primaries this year.
And perhaps most importantly, this is also the same Mitch McConnell who took it upon himself to kill a bipartisan plan to create an independent commission to examine the Jan. 6 attack. Indeed, as we recently discussed, it was in May 2021 when McConnell told his members a Jan. 6 probe was likely to undermine the party’s midterm election message. A few days later, the top Senate Republican was reportedly telling his members he’d consider it “a personal favor“ if they helped derail the legislation to create an independent commission.
An unnamed GOP senator told CNN at the time, “No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a ‘personal favor’ to kill the commission.”
As NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin explained well yesterday, “Had McConnell allowed an independent commission, the RNC resolution to censure Cheney and Kinzinger would also not exist, because the committee they’re on would not exist. No matter how much McConnell wants the party to move on from this, he’s not the guy who gets to decide.”