‘Grotesque’: White House slams top GOP lawmaker calling Jan 6 prisoners ‘hostages’

The White House press secretary on Monday slammed a top Republican in the House of Representatives for what she said were “grotesque” remarks about January 6.

House Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik earned the rebuke with an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. During her interview with Kristin Welker, Ms Stefanik was asked whether she views the violent attack on Congress as a “tragic” day for America, and whether she believed that those responsible should be prosecuted.

Ms Stefanik dodged the question, instead responding that she had “concerns about the treatment of January 6 hostages” and citing Congress’s duty to perform oversight.

On Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jeane-Pierre denounced that description of accused January 6 participants who remain in jail awaiting trial as “grotesque”.

"It is grotesque to make those type of comparison," she said aboard Air Force One during a gaggle Monday.

She went on to accuse Ms Stefanik of attempting to liken the treatment of January 6 participants in the Washington DC jail and other facilities to the circumstances endured by Israelis, Americans and others taken by Hamas militants during a bloody attack against Israel in October.

Ms Jean-Pierre told reporters that it was “grotesque and offensive to compare those convicted of assaulting cops and attempting to overthrow the American government” to those “who were abducted during Hamas atrocities on October 7th”.

Ms Stefanik’s words are reminiscent of why she was successful in overthrowing Liz Cheney as head of the House Republican Conference with the support of Donald Trump. The New York Republican was once seen as a moderate by her colleagues but has completed one of the most pronounced pivots to the Trump camp since taking office among members of her party in the Capitol.

Welker received some criticism on Twitter/X after the interview aired for not pushing back more significantly against Ms Stefanik’s assertions as they related to participants in the January 6 riot. Ms Stefanik was also roundly criticised by Democrats and anti-Trump conservatives such as the Lincoln Project.

“J6 prisoners are not hostages or heroes. They are radicalized terrorists who were doing the bidding of the most anti-democratic man to ever hold office in the history of our nation,” said the group.

It added: “Elise Stefanik is desperately pleading for the attention and favor of Donald Trump in a misguided attempt to further her political ambitions at the expense of American democracy. She is an embarrassment to the office she holds and to the oath she has taken to defend this nation against enemies foreign and domestic.”

The Republican congresswoman was one of a handful of prominent Republicans in the lower chamber who did not seek the top leadership role in the House of Representatives after the downfall of Kevin McCarthy less than a year into his term. Others in the House, like Tom Emmer, Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, all threw their hats into the ring only to exit in embarrassing defeat days or sometimes just hours later.