In censure of Cheney and Kinzinger, GOP frames Jan. 6 riot as 'legitimate political discourse'

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The Republican National Committee voted Friday to censure GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their participation in the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol carried out by the supporters of then-President Donald Trump. In the process, it also attempted to reframe the events of that day as "legitimate political discourse."

"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," the censure resolution stated.

This extraordinary rewriting of the Jan. 6 attack is not the first revision attempted by some Republicans. Egged on by Trump, and with the stated intention of preventing Congress from certifying the Electoral College tally showing that Joe Biden had defeated him in the 2020 election, thousands of angry Trump supporters stormed the Capitol that day and assaulted police officers.

Initially, many Republican lawmakers condemned the riot, which injured 150 police officers and was blamed for the deaths of nine people. In the days that followed, however, some in the party attempted to blame left-wing protesters for the chaos. When that narrative failed to take hold, Fox News host Tucker Carlson embarked on a mission to convince his viewers, without hard evidence, that the FBI had possibly infiltrated the crowd, sparking the riot.

Protesters clash with Capitol Police on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Protesters clash with Capitol Police on Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

More than 760 people have been arrested and charged for their roles in the Jan. 6 attack. More than 150 have pleaded guilty to crimes committed on that day, and nearly 100 have been sentenced so far.

For the RNC, the decision to censure Cheney and Kinzinger and to seek to absolve those who took part in the events of Jan. 6 mirrors the thinking of Trump, the man who was impeached for "incitement of insurrection" for his role in that chapter of American history.

At a rally over the weekend in Conroe, Texas, Trump indicated that if he were elected to a second term, he would issue blanket pardons to those who were charged and convicted in a court of law in connection with the riot.

“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly,” Trump told his audience. “We will treat them fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.”

Not every Republican not named Cheney or Kinzinger agreed with that line of thinking, however.

“I think it’s inappropriate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Trump's comments during an interview on "Face the Nation." “I don’t want to reinforce that defiling the Capitol was OK. I don’t want to do anything that would make this more likely in the future.”

In a statement Friday, Cheney said GOP leaders are "willing hostages" to Trump.

“The leaders of the Republican Party have made themselves 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,” Cheney said in a statement.

“I’m a constitutional conservative and I do not recognize those in my party who have abandoned the Constitution to embrace Donald Trump. History will be their judge. I will never stop fighting for our constitutional republic. No matter what.”

Upon learning of the wording used in the censure resolution, she then posted a response on Twitter.

In all, just 17 Republican lawmakers voted in 2021 to impeach or convict Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack. Democrats, along with Cheney and Kinzinger, are continuing to investigate how far the plan to overturn the 2020 election extended.

Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger listen during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack.
Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger at a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters)

In theory, the committee's work could lead it to file a criminal referral for Trump to the Department of Justice, but even primetime hearings detailing Trump's efforts to keep Biden from becoming president could offer a serious impediment should Trump decide to seek reelection in 2024.

For Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who twice voted to impeach Trump, the censure of Cheney and Kinzinger is an ominous sign for the party he represented as its presidential nominee in 2012. Romney's niece Ronna Romney McDaniel is the current chairwoman of the GOP and a staunch Trump ally.

Most Republican lawmakers remained silent in the immediate aftermath of the resolution, although Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., also criticized the RNC's decision. Cassidy and Romney are two of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump after the Capitol riot.

Read the full censure resolution below: