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McConnell breaks with RNC over its censure of 2 House Republicans

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell broke with the National Republican Party yesterday over its censure of two House Republicans. The RNC formally condemned Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for their participation in the House investigation of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. NPR's Deirdre Walsh is following this and joins us now. Good morning, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What exactly did McConnell say?

WALSH: Well, the top Senate Republican criticized the RNC. He specifically took issue with the way this RNC resolution described the attack on the Capitol. That resolution said the House panel was engaging in persecution of, quote, "ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse." But McConnell said what happened on January 6 was, quote, "a violent insurrection." And he said the election was legitimately certified. McConnell also said the party's job traditionally is to support its members. Here's more of what McConnell said yesterday.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: 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.

WALSH: McConnell did say he continues to back RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.

MARTIN: How are other Republicans on Capitol Hill responding to this?

WALSH: There's definitely been a split. You know, other senior Republicans in the Senate said the censure resolution was a distraction and a mistake. At a time when President Biden's approval ratings are down, they want to be focused on his performance. McConnell has repeatedly said for months the upcoming midterm elections should be a referendum on President Biden's record on the economy. But others support what the RNC did and say voters in their state just oppose Kinzinger and Cheney's decision to be part of this investigation. The resolution also backed a primary challenge to Liz Cheney. Adam Kinzinger is not running for reelection. Here's Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley. He didn't personally weigh in on the resolution, but he said it matched voter sentiment.

JOSH HAWLEY: Listen, whatever you think about the RNC vote, it reflects the view of most Republican voters. So I can just tell you my state, it's not helpful to have a bunch of D.C. Republicans commenting on what the RNC and, frankly, probably most Missouri Republicans support - super unhelpful.

WALSH: Hawley's point just underscores how much of the party, really the vast majority of the party's base, continues to support former President Trump and oppose any outspoken critics like Cheney or Kinzinger.

MARTIN: So what does all this say, in particular, the remarks by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about where the Republican Party is right now?

WALSH: There just continues to be divisions about the way forward and who should be leading the party. Utah Republican Mitt Romney, his niece is actually Ronna McDaniel, the party chair. He called the move unfortunate and just said the description of the attack was just wrong. But a lot of rank-and-file Republicans I talked to on Capitol Hill yesterday were basically fine with it. They didn't really want to get into the details, but they say that, you know, Liz Cheney should be accountable to her voters. And the woman who took her place in House leadership, Elise Stefanik, defended the RNC's move to censure her.

MARTIN: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.