US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday denounced his Republican Party for calling the January 6 attack “legitimate political discourse” and declared it a “violent insurrection".
His declaration was a clear rebuke of a wave of Republican support for former president Donald Trump, who incited a mob of his supporters to attack the US Capitol a year ago as Congress gathered to certify the 2020 election win of Democrat Joe Biden.
“We saw it happen,” Mr McConnell said. “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.”
The senator's remarks also broke with the Republican National Committee, which last week censured party members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for joining a House investigation into the attack.
Four people died on January 6 and a Capitol Police officer died the next day. About 140 police officers were injured and four later died by suicide.
Mr McConnell has maintained his strong criticism of Mr Trump over the insurrection, though he voted to acquit the former president after the House voted to impeach him one week after the attack.
In a speech after that vote, Mr McConnell said “there is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day”, and that “a mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him".
His use of the word “insurrection” — the act of rising up against established authority — is significant. Many in his party have insisted that it was not an insurrection, playing down the attack or trying to portray it as a peaceful protest.
Still, Mr McConnell doesn’t often mention January 6 and did not participate in remembrance ceremonies on the anniversary of the attack last month. He has emphasised to his conference that they should focus on the future and issues that will help them win back the Senate.
The Republican convention called the investigation a “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse”, a remark that garnered backlash from Democrats and some Republicans.
“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,” Mr McConnell said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report