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Republicans who defended Jan. 6 rioters as victims face backlash

What will happen to right-wing House members who defended the Jan. 6 rioters? An official censure resolution is now a distinct possibility.
Image: Protesters climb over Capitol building where pro-Trump supporters riot and breached the Capitol,
Protesters climb over Capitol building where pro-Trump supporters riot and breached the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021.Pacific Press / Getty Images file

Even those who've come to expect the worst from congressional Republicans were taken aback last week during a House hearing on the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. It was at the hearing that several GOP members characterized the violent insurrectionists as, of all things, victims.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), for example, rejected the idea that the insurrectionist violence constituted "an insurrection," adding that Trump's rabid mob behaved "in an orderly fashion." The Georgia Republican went on to say, "[I]f you didn't know that TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit."

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) blasted the Justice Department for "harassing" suspected rioters, whom he described as "peaceful patriots." Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) added, "It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) lent his support to his right-wing colleagues late last week, trying to argue that there are worse things than an insurrectionist riot inside the nation's seat of government.

The effort to rewrite recent history was every bit as surreal as it sounds -- and the backlash is now underway.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said Friday it was "indefensible" that some House Republicans have minimized the Jan. 6 riot and downplayed violence between Capitol Police officers and former President Donald Trump's supporters who attempted to disrupt the congressional count of the 2020 election results. "The notion that this was somehow a tourist event is disgraceful and despicable," Cheney said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" Co-Anchor Jonathan Karl. "I won't be part of whitewashing what happened on Jan. 6. Nobody should be a part of it and people ought to be held accountable."

Cheney wasn't alone among anti-Trump Republicans. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said, "When I saw my colleagues speak, you know, it feels like it's in a '1984' -- something you see out of North Korea, where it's like, 'We're just going to state whatever we want the reality to be.'" Former Defense Secretary William Cohen, who was also a longtime GOP member of Congress, added, "Those members who are trying to say, 'No big deal on Jan. 6,' they're trying to perform a frontal lobotomy on the American people, a side effect which is mental dullness."

And while the criticisms are welcome, for some congressional Democrats, they're not enough. NBC News reported late last week:

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is seeking support for a resolution to censure several Republican lawmakers who he said made misleading comments this week about the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Cicilline's resolution names Republican Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Jody Hice of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona. The text is forthcoming, but Cicilline sent a memo to his Democratic colleagues asking for support by close of business on Monday.

Time will tell what, if anything, comes of this, but it's probably a good time to note that the right-wing Republicans peddling despicable claims about the Jan. 6 riot have inadvertently helped make the case for an effective and independent Jan. 6 commission. Or put another way, the more some Republicans lie about the worst attack on our Capitol in more than two centuries, the greater the need for an official review to document what, exactly, happened and why.

On Friday, a compromise on the commission's structure and mandate took shape, but the nascent agreement has not yet been endorsed by Republican leaders in either chamber. Watch this space.