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Rift Among Republicans Widens Over Censure of Party Outliers


In this file photo taken on Dec. 1, 2021, Republican Representatives Liz Cheney, left, and Adam Kinzinger listen during a select committee investigating the Capitol attack.

The divide in the Republican party over former president Donald Trump widened Tuesday as senators criticized the Republican National Committee for censuring Representatives Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney last week.

Kinzinger and Cheney have been outliers in their own party over the past year for criticizing Trump's false claims of fraud in the 2020 election and for saying he played a role in encouraging the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The RNC cited Kinzinger and Cheney's service on the select House committee investigating the events of January 6 in its censure, writing that they were participating in the "persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."

The select House committee has aggressively pursued information on the planning and implementation of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, issuing subpoenas to former Trump campaign and White House officials.

But some Republican senators said it was not the RNC's role to dictate the individual views of members.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to a reporter at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 19, 2022.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to a reporter at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 19, 2022.

"Traditionally the view of the national party committees is that we support all members of our party, regardless of their positions on some issues," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday. "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."

McConnell went on to describe the events of January 6 as "a violent insurrection" with the purpose of preventing the peaceful transfer of power. Last February, McConnell voted to acquit Trump of a single impeachment charge of inciting that insurrection.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters Monday he had texted his niece, Ronna McDaniel, who chairs the RNC, to express his concern about the censure. Romney was one of seven Republican senators who voted in February 2021 to convict Trump of the impeachment charge of inciting that insurrection.

Cheney was removed from a leadership position in the House Republican Conference last year following her criticism of Trump's false claims about the results of the 2020 election. Representative Elise Stefanik, who replaced Cheney as conference chair, defended the RNC Tuesday.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, May 14, 2021, just after she was elected the new chair of the House Republican Conference.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, May 14, 2021, just after she was elected the new chair of the House Republican Conference.

"The RNC has every right to take any action, and 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 here this year," Stefanik said at a press conference.

Trump's role in the Republican Party is expected to be a key issue in the upcoming midterm elections, as Republicans attempt to take control of the House and Senate from Democrats.

The censure — which passed unanimously by voice vote at the RNC's winter meeting Friday — says it will cease all support for Kinzinger and Cheney "as members of the Republican Party for their behavior which has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic, and is inconsistent with the position of the Conference."

The lack of RNC support may not be a major worry for Cheney, who recently reported raising more than $7 million last year toward her campaign for reelection in November, according to CNN. That compares with $745,000 raised by her nearest competitor for the party nomination.

She and Kinzinger are among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year for his role in the insurrection.

But polling shows the majority of Republican voters see the events of that day very differently. A December 2021 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found 45% of Republicans consider January 6 a political protest, while 89% of Democrats consider it an insurrection.

FILE - Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks during a hearing at the U.S. Capitol, March 3, 2021,
FILE - Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks during a hearing at the U.S. Capitol, March 3, 2021,

Some Republican senators have downplayed those events, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who described it as a "peaceful protest." Many Republicans have also criticized the select House committee formed by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate that day, characterizing it as overly political.

The worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries delayed the certification of electoral college votes for Joe Biden for several hours and resulted in the deaths of five people.

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