As McConnell calls Jan. 6 ‘a violent insurrection,’ Grassley and Ernst avoid giving direct answers on the issue dividing Republicans

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

The Republican National Committee’s attempt to whitewash the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol as “legitimate political discourse” while condemning two Trump-critical party members has led to pushback from GOP senators, Politico reported on Tuesday. That pushback does not include Iowa’s two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

The RNC, the governing body of the national Republican Party, adopted a resolution on Sunday denouncing Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only two Republicans on the select committee of the U.S. House of Representatives investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. The resolution accused Cheney and Kinzinger of being disloyal by serving on the committee, which it characterized as “a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

The resolution, adopted with no dissenting votes, on Sunday concludes:

RESOLVED, That the Republican National Committee hereby formally censures Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and shall immediately cease any and all support of them 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.

Speaking to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the RNC’s characterization of the Jan. 6 attack.

“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.”

The Republican leader then turned his attention to the censure of Cheney and Kinzinger.

“With regard to the suggestion that the RNC should be in the business of picking and choosing Republicans who ought to be supported, traditionally the view of the committees is that we support all members of our party, regardless of their positions on some issues,” McConnell said.

Responding to a reporter’s question, McConnell reiterated his position: “The issue is whether or not the RNC should be singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC.”

When he was asked about the RNC’s action, Grassley did not squarely address the issue as McConnell did. Instead, he resorted to a two-step tactic familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the senior senator during his six-decade-long political career.

Grassley will often avoid addressing a political controversy by claiming not to know enough about it to comment, regardless of how extensively it has been covered in the media and how widely known the facts are. He then dismisses the controversy as unimportant to Iowans, thereby excusing himself from the need to learn more about it.

According to a report from Radio Iowa, that’s what Grassley did on Tuesday.

“What they did, I haven’t studied, because I’m focused on issues that Iowans raise with me at my county meetings,” the senator said regarding the censure resolution, which has been extensively covered by the media since Sunday. The document, which is just over one page in length, is also available online.

Grassley continued, “I don’t hear anything about the RNC at my county meetings, either about this or anything else.”

Asked whether the Jan. 6 insurrection was “legitimate political speech,” Grassley replied with a general statement, “You and I both know that breaking into any federal building is a crime.”

Unlike McConnell, Grassley did not acknowledge the political motive of the rioters who broke into the Capitol Building.

Sen. Ernst was part of a group of Republican senators standing behind McConnell as he delivered his remarks on Tuesday. But her own earlier comment on the RNC’s action was nothing like his.

“I wish they wouldn’t [censure members of Congress],” Ernst said, according to Politico. “I would leave it up to the states.”

It was a much weaker statement than the one Ernst made in May 2021, as the Republican House Caucus was preparing to strip Liz Cheney her leadership position in the caucus because of her rejection of Donald Trump’s repeated lie that he actually won the 2020 election.

“It’s okay to go ahead and express what you feel is right to express,” Ernst told reporters at the time. “And you know, cancel culture is cancel culture no matter how you look at it, and unfortunately I think there are those that are trying to silence others in the party.”

The senator, a vocal Trump loyalist, added, “I support President Trump and his policies, so I have a slightly different view on that.”

When Grassley was asked about House Republicans ousting Cheney as conference chair, he replied, “I’m not even hearing this issue from Iowa Republicans so I don’t think much about it, because this is the House of Representatives’ business, not the Senate’s business.”

Both Cheney and Kinzinger have been repeatedly denounced by Trump and his supporters, first because they were publicly critical of Trump’s actions as president and later because they were among the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection and the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In the Senate, seven Republicans joined all the chamber’s Democrats in voting to convict Trump. Grassley and Ernst voted to acquit.

Kinzinger announced in October 2021 he will not run for reelection this year. Cheney, despite the opposition she is facing from her own party, is running for reelection. So is Grassley.

Sen. Chuck Grassley accepts Trump’s endorsement, saying he “wouldn’t be too smart” to refuse it. Iowa State Fairgrounds, Oct. 9, 2021. — Jason Smith/Little Village

During a rally held by Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in October, the former president endorsed Grassley for reelection, calling him “one of our best supporters on election fraud.”

“I was born at night, but not last night,” Grassley said after Trump briefly turned over the podium to him. “So, if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent approval of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. And I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”

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