The Republican Party is melting down over the question of what to do about Jan. 6. Was it “legitimate political discourse” or a “violent insurrection”? If you’re House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, you’d rather run from reporters than answer that question.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the Republican National Committee’s recent censure of GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump and then joined the House’s Jan. 6 select committee. At the same time as they censured Cheney and Kinzinger, the RNC declared the events leading up to it as “legitimate political discourse.”
McConnell told reporters Tuesday that “we saw [Jan. 6] happen.”
“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,” McConnell said. “That’s what it was.”
McConnell did not support Republican efforts to deny certification of the 2020 election. He has said in the past that Trump was responsible for the insurrection, but ultimately, the Kentucky senator voted not to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial.
McConnell also said Tuesday that while he has confidence in RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, “it’s not the job of the RNC” to “single out” members of the party.
The RNC has also faced criticism from some usually conflict-averse Republicans like Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham. “Those who assaulted police officers, broke windows, and breached the Capitol were not engaged in legitimate political discourse, and to say otherwise is absurd,” Collins said Monday.
McDaniel said in a statement to the New York Times Tuesday that the RNC “has repeatedly condemned all acts of political violence and lawlessness,” and some RNC members told the Times that the “legitimate political discourse” referred to fake Trump electors rather than Capitol rioters.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, on the other hand, had a quite a different response when reporters tried to ask him about the resolution.
“Everybody knows, anybody who broke in and caused damages, that was uncalled for and those people, we’ve said from the very beginning, should be in jail,” McCarthy told CNN. “What [the RNC] were talking about is the six RNC members who [the] Jan. 6 [committee] has subpoenaed who weren’t even here; they were in Florida that day.” (14 people, including the RNC members McCarthy referred to, were subpoenaed in late January.)
McCarthy did not answer questions about whether he personally supported the RNC’s resolution describing Jan. 6 as “legitimate political discourse.” When another reporter tried to ask him about the resolution Tuesday, he told her to “make an appointment with my office” and said it was “not good to go into it” in the hallway.
McConnell and McCarthy’s split responses show the growing divide within the GOP on how to handle the question of the 2020 election and Trump, who has relentlessly slammed Republicans—including McConnell—who haven’t backed the baseless conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
If Republicans win back the House in the November midterms, McCarthy is set to become speaker next year, and has sought to ally himself with the former president, even backing the caucus’s move to throw Cheney out of the House Republican leadership. Still, he’s met resistance from the right-wing of his caucus including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom McCarthy has vowed to reinstate to her committees after the Democratic-controlled House kicked her off them last year.
“We know that Kevin McCarthy has a problem in our conference,” Greene told Rep. Matt Gaetz during a November appearance on Gaetz’s podcast. “He doesn’t have the full support to be speaker."
McConnell, on the other hand, no longer has a working relationship with the former president, who has taken to calling McConnell as “Old Crow” and criticizing him over his support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed last year, as well as raising the debt ceiling. McConnell dismissed Trump’s attacks in an interview with the Washington Examiner Tuesday, pointing out that no sitting GOP senator has vowed to vote against him keeping his job as Senate leader after the next election.
“Every reporter in town, including, I’m sure, you, have been probing to find one for months, right?” McConnell told the Examiner. “Have you found one? That’s the answer to your question.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.