WASHINGTON — Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, pushed back hard on Tuesday on the Republican Party’s censure of Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and its characterization of Jan. 6 as “legitimate political discourse,” saying the riot was a “violent insurrection.”
The remarks from Mr. McConnell, the normally taciturn Kentucky Republican, added to a small but forceful chorus of G.O.P. lawmakers who have decried the action that the Republican National Committee took on Friday, when it officially rebuked Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger for participating in the House investigation of the Jan. 6 attack, accusing them of “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
Mr. McConnell repudiated that description, saying, “We saw it 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. That’s what it was.”
In the days since the Republican National Committee passed the resolution at its winter meeting in Salt Lake City, a handful of Republicans have criticized the move as everything from a political distraction to a shame on the party. Mr. McConnell was among the most blunt.
“Traditionally, the view of the national party committees is that we support all members of our party, regardless of their positions on some issues,” he told reporters in a choreographed statement after Senate Republicans’ closed-door weekly lunch. He added, “The issue is whether or not the R.N.C. should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views of the majority. That’s not the job of the R.N.C.”
The resolution, pushed by allies of former President Donald Trump, has disrupted efforts by congressional Republicans to focus on what they see as the failings of President Biden and the Democratic Party in an election year. At a news conference on Tuesday, House Republicans wanted to blame the president for a worsening crisis around fentanyl, but virtually every question was on the party’s resolution.
“Republicans have been very clear, we condemn the violence on Jan. 6. We also condemn the violence in 2020 as violent criminals attacked federal buildings including parts of Washington, D.C.,” said Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the House Republican Conference chairwoman, equating racial justice protests with the deadly assault on the Capitol. She added that “we believe the Jan. 6 commission is political theater about punishing partisan opponents.”
Some Republicans feared that the party’s censure of the only two Republicans who serve on the House inquiry into Jan. 6 could resurrect efforts by the House’s far-right wing to try to expel Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger from the House Republican Conference. That had been the original intention of the party officials who drafted the censure resolution, David Bossie and Frank Eathorne, and it initially called for that action.
But House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning with a clear talking point: The party should focus on ensuring that Ms. Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, does not win re-election to the House after this November’s election. (Mr. Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, has already announced his retirement.)
“People want them kicked out,” said Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who led an effort last year to expel the two. But, she added, “it’d be really ridiculous to kick them out of the conference, but not work hard to make sure Liz Cheney is defeated.”
A G.O.P. resolution. The Republican National Committee officially declared the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol “legitimate political discourse,” while censuring Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the inquiry into the episode. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, subsequently spoke against the resolution.
Some Republicans defended the resolution by noting that it encapsulated the party’s view of what had happened on Jan. 6.
“Whatever you think about the R.N.C. vote, it reflects the view of most Republican voters,” said Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri. “In my state, it’s not helpful to have a bunch of D.C. Republicans commenting on the R.N.C.”