Republicans are struggling to break out of a cycle of Jan. 6 controversies, reigniting tensions within the party heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

The fallout from the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) censure resolution is the latest controversy in recent weeks that has sucked up political oxygen and turned the spotlight from the Biden administration, where top GOP lawmakers would like to keep it, to intraparty divisions centered around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol carried out by a mob of former President Trump’s supporters.  

On Tuesday, the top two Republicans in the Capitol took opposite stances responding to questions about the RNC’s resolution, underscoring their different approaches to both Jan. 6 and Trump.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) broke with the RNC over a resolution last week describing the Jan. 6 attack as “legitimate political discourse” and criticized the decision to censure GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Liz Cheney (Wyo.).  

“It was a violent insurrection with the purpose of trying to prevent a peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election. … That’s what it was,” McConnell said.  

He added that while he had confidence in RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, the national committee shouldn’t be “singling out” members of the party.  

“That’s not the job of the RNC,” McConnell said.  

McConnell vocally criticized Trump over the Jan. 6 attack last year, accusing him of being “practically and morally responsible.” McConnell did not vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial for inciting the riot, arguing the former president had already left office.  

A member of GOP leadership told The Hill that they weren’t surprised by McConnell’s response generally, but they were surprised that he used the word “insurrection.”  

“He’s been pretty forward leaning on this,” the senator added.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has remained close to Trump, appeared to defend the RNC’s use of “legitimate political discourse,” saying that it was linked to six members of the RNC who had been subpoenaed by the House panel. The actual RNC resolution didn’t mention that committee members had been subpoenaed.

“Everybody knows anybody who broke in and caused damage, that was not called for. And those people, we’ve said from the very beginning, should be in jail,” McCarthy told CNN. 

The different remarks mirror the separate trails the two GOP leaders have walked when it comes to Trump.  

McCarthy has aligned himself closely with the former president as he tries to win the Speaker’s gavel if Republicans take back the majority later this year.  

McConnell, in contrast, largely avoids mentioning Trump, who routinely blasts the Kentucky senator in statements sent to the media.  

It’s hardly the first time Jan. 6 has become a point of contention among Republicans.  

Senate Republicans pushed back against Trump’s claim last week that former President Mike Pence could have overturned the election on Jan. 6 and his decision to float potential pardons if he runs for the White House in 2024 and wins.  

Republicans worry that keeping Jan. 6 in the spotlight will hurt the party heading into the November midterms, where they think issues like inflation and the economy give them a good chance of winning back the House and Senate majorities.  

“Stop talking about it, you know? Start talking about the things that are going to decide the election in November. Sometimes we can’t get out of our own way,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, told The Hill.  

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whose niece is McDaniel, added that “anything that my party does that comes across as being stupid is not going to help us.” 

Senate Republicans warned that the RNC inadvertently put a spotlight on the party divisions and should stick with supporting elected Republicans.

“The RNC statements, particularly the censuring of Adam and Liz, were not helpful. First of all, it’s none of their business,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). He added of the RNC that “to some degree they’re helping keep something alive that most people want to move on from.”  

House Republicans were more willing to defend the RNC’s censure of two of their own members. 

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who replaced Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference last year, said the RNC has “every right to take any action.” 

“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. 

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), who switched parties in 2019, told The Hill that “it was appropriate that they did get censured.”  

“Frankly, Congresswoman Cheney particularly was very mean-spirited,” Van Drew added.  

House GOP leaders are trying to avoid highlighting divisions as they head into the midterms, with Stefanik saying that taking additional action against Cheney or Kinzinger didn’t get brought up in a closed-door conference meeting.  

Instead, during the meeting, GOP leadership tried to emphasize the need for Republicans to work together, playing a video from a past Super Bowl where the Los Angeles Rams players were introduced individually, in contrast to the New England Patriots, who were introduced as a team. The Patriots won that game. 

“This is how we should act,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), summarizing the GOP leadership’s message with the video. “It was just a nice little homily to begin the conference.” 

Cristina Marcos contributed.

This story was updated at 7:32 p.m.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Capitol riot Donald Trump Elise Stefanik Jan. 6 panel Jeff Van Drew John Thune Kevin Cramer Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Republican National Committee RNC Ronna McDaniel Tom Cole
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