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RNC censures Cheney and Kinzinger for their participation in Jan. 6 investigation

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We have some news from the Republican Party now. The former Vice President Mike Pence is stating plainly that he could not have overturned the election on January 6 of last year. In stating that, he is directly contradicting former President Donald Trump and calling him out by name. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee voted today to censure two of its own members of congress, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a move that is also related to the events of January 6.

For more on all this, we are joined by senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: To start with former Vice President Mike Pence, what exactly did he say today?

MONTANARO: This is pretty remarkable. He directly took on former President Trump's lie earlier this week that Pence had the right to, quote, "overturn the election." Pence said, no. Here's what he said today before the Federalist Society, a conservative legal advocacy group.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE PENCE: President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.

MONTANARO: We've heard Pence more mildly pushed back against Trump's claims that he could have done something, but this was more forceful. Another thing that really caught my ear - by the way, Pence argued that if we win back the White House in 2024, they wouldn't want Vice President Kamala Harris, for example, trying to overturn the results, which she has no power to do. But you have to wonder if Trump runs again, if the we is going to include Pence this time.

SHAPIRO: Now let's turn to the RNC's censure of two fellow Republicans. Tell us more about that.

MONTANARO: Yeah. At their winter meeting in Salt Lake City today, the RNC accused Cheney and Kinzinger of trying to, quote, "sabotage the Republican Party by working with the Congressional committee that's investigating January 6, when the main goal should be to win back Congress this fall for Republicans." They also happen to be staunch Trump critics, of course, Cheney and Kinzinger. But one paragraph of this two-page resolution really leapt out to those of us who read it today because it alleges Cheney and Kinzinger are, quote, "participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."

Now, RNC chair, Ronna McDaniel, forcefully defended that language, saying it doesn't refer to those who participated in the violence at the Capitol. She said she condemns the violence, but contends that the January 6 committee has gone well beyond the scope of the events of that day.

We followed up with the RNC to see who they were talking about exactly. And they said, for example, White House aides who've been subpoenaed. The committee, of course, would argue they have every right to talk to them because the committee is trying to get to the bottom of what happened that day. And that includes what former President Trump knew.

SHAPIRO: Have Cheney and Kinzinger responded?

MONTANARO: They have. Kinzinger repeated that he was just trying to uphold his oath of office in voting to impeach Trump. Cheney said, in a statement, the leaders of the Republican Party have made themselves willing hostages to a man who admits he tried to overturn a presidential election that suggests he would pardon January 6 defendants. Of course, she's talking about President Trump there.

And we should say there were some Republicans who oppose this language at this meeting, but they were in the minority. And it really does seem like all of this is an attempt to camouflage and confuse and walk a line to appeal to the base which has followed President Trump's lead in downplaying the events of January 6, a day which people died and 150 law enforcement officers were hurt and what was the most violent day at the Capitol in 200 years.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.