Censoring Cheney and Kinzinger, RNC calls January 6 events ‘legitimate political discourse’

By Gabby Orr, CNN

In a resolution formally censuring GOP Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the Republican National Committee on Friday called the events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising at the U.S. Capitol “legitimate political speech.”

A copy of the resolution obtained by CNN claimed the two lawmakers were “participating in a Democratic-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political speech” from their perch on the House Select Committee, which conducted interviews with nearly 400 people – from members of former President Donald Trump’s inner circle to the organizers who helped plan the “Stop the Steal” rally on the morning of Jan. 6.

The RNC then attempted to clarify the inclusion of the term “legitimate political speech” in the resolution, releasing a new statement to CNN from Chair Ronna McDaniel that distinguished between those who had not committed violence on January 6. and those who had.

“Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger crossed a line,” McDaniel said. “They chose to join Nancy Pelosi in a Democratic-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political speech that had nothing to do with violence on Capitol Hill.”

Those last words — “which had nothing to do with the violence on Capitol Hill” — were not in the resolution passed Friday.

The decision to censure Cheney, of Wyoming, and Kinzinger, of Illinois, is unprecedented and marks the first time the national party has reprimanded a Republican incumbent from Congress — let alone two — with formal censure backed by its members. When the resolution was presented to the 168-member RNC on Friday, it was described as a motion “to no longer support [Cheney and Kinzinger] as members of the Republican Party.

Despite the resolution passing, there were a few vocal opponents in the room on Friday.

“I think this whole censorship thing is a slippery slope. Are we going to blame Marc Short for showing up to testify before the committee? Are we going to censor Mike Pence if he cooperates? said New Jersey committee member Bill Palatucci, referring to the former vice president and his chief of staff, who recently met with the House panel Jan. 6 following a subpoena.

Ahead of the vote, RNC members lobbied for the resolution to be watered down to remove language calling for Cheney and Kinzinger to be expelled from the House GOP conference — a strictly symbolic move given that the party has not the power to decide who serves or does not serve. in Congress.

“Some people felt it was too harsh,” said Jonathan Barnett, the resolution’s co-sponsor and committee member from Arkansas.

Both Cheney and Kinzinger played active roles in the House Select Committee’s investigation into Trump’s activities leading up to and during the riot on Capitol Hill last January. Their status as the only Republicans on the panel has drawn scorn from other GOP lawmakers and party officials who believe they are allowing an unfair investigation by congressional Democrats.

“It’s not about differing opinions. It’s about them helping [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi,” said David Bossie, a Trump ally and member of the Maryland national committee, who drafted the original resolution to oust Cheney and Kinzinger from the GOP caucus.

In a statement before the resolution was passed, Cheney said the punitive measure marked “a sad day for Lincoln’s party.”

Cheney’s team also criticized a separate deal struck by Wyoming GOP Chairman Frank Eathorne and the national party that would allow the RNC to fund Cheney’s main challenger, Harriet Hageman, using a long-standing party rule. known as Rule 11. With the help of high profile donors, such as former President George W. Bush, Cheney recently reported fundraising of over $2 million in the last three months of 2021, giving him a significant advantage over Hageman, who raised $443,000 during the same period.

“Frank Eathorne and the Republican National Committee are trying to assert their will and take away the voice of the people of Wyoming before even a single vote has been cast,” a spokesperson for Cheney said in a statement to CNN. .

Palatucci said supporters of the deal to help Hageman were likely emboldened by the overwhelming support they found among Cheney and Kinzinger’s committee members for censorship.

“I think censorship was the secondary piece to lay the groundwork for the Rule 11 change,” he told CNN after the vote.

Several Republicans, including Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential candidate, criticized the no-confidence motion by Cheney and Kinzinger, who were among 10 House GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump l year for his role in inciting the Capitol Riot. .

“Shame falls on a party that would censor people of conscience, who seek truth in the face of vitriol. Honor attaches to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for seeking the truth even though it comes at a high personal cost,” Romney said in a tweet hours before Friday’s vote.

This story has been updated with additional details on the RNC resolution and Friday’s vote.

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CNN’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.