Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), slammed House Republicans for visiting a jail where January 6 defendants are being held.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers serving on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability visited the Washington, D.C. jail on Friday. The visit reignited criticism from some over the GOP’s response to the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol building, which saw a group of former President Donald Trump‘s supporters violently protest in a failed attempt to force Congress to block President Joe Biden‘s Electoral College victory.
Some Republicans have condemned the treatment of these defendants, arguing they are being unfairly held for political purposes. Critics, however, have accused GOP lawmakers of siding with the rioters who sought to block the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election.
“We have to work as hard as possible to defund the two-tiered ‘Injustice System,’” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who has raised concerns about their treatment, said in a press conference following the visit. “And we have to return freedom and due process rights to these pretrial January 6 defendants.”
The visit drew backlash from Steele, who served as the RNC chair from 2009 to 2011, but who has become critical of GOP leadership following Trump’s 2016 election. Steele, while filling in on MSNBC‘s All In With Chris Hayes, highlighted his opposition to the GOP’s stance on the January 6 defendants.
“I need to start with a question for today’s Republican Part. What the hell’s wrong with you? Today, House MAGA Republicans took an official, party leadership sanctioned field trip to visit the January 6 insurrectionists, who they call political prisoners,” Steele said.
He accused Republicans of “wasting” their energy on “the violent insurrectionist mob,” also calling out House leadership for allowing the trip to take place.
“This whole sad pandering show of support from the insurrectionist comes from the top of the Republican Party. Just look at what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was doing yesterday. He met with the mother of Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist who sadly lost her life while she was doing Donald Trump’s bidding on January,” Steele added.
Following the visit, Democratic and Republican lawmakers offered differing views of the conditions experienced by the defendants.
Representative Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican, in remarks to reporters after the jail visit raised concerns that some defendants had not received a bond hearing in their trials.
“Constitutional rights have to be protected for all Americans. You don’t get to pick and choose based upon your political viewpoints,” he said.
Representative Robert Garcia, a California Democrat, however, said Republicans acted “shameful” in a statement released after the visit.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene is already telling lies about the conditions of the facility and saying that there was no insurrection on January 6,” Garcia said. “When we saw the inmates, my Republican colleagues rushed to them and treated them like celebrities rather than people who attacked our capitol police and our very democracy. The actions of our Republican colleagues inside the facility and their lies about the visit are shameful.”
Newsweek reached out to Greene and McCarthy’s offices for comment via email.
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