Politics

Republican Leader Humiliated by Audio Reconfirming He Didn’t Support Violent Overthrow of Government

McCarthy wearing a black mask, in profile in a hallway with a masked police officer behind him
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Capitol Hill on May 12. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

After Jan. 6, 2021, according to public statements and reporting at the time, a number of Republican congressional figures who had rationalized and excused Donald Trump’s behavior during his presidency said they believed he was to blame for the violence in the Capitol that day. Some said he should resign or that they would vote to impeach and convict him to remove him from office.

This was a natural response on a personal level, since all of them had been inside the Capitol when a mob assaulted and pushed past a line of police officers, then smashed through windows and doors and into the building, after listening to Trump give a speech about overturning the results of the election. Some members of the crowd shouted that they wanted to kill the Republican vice president, and one, who was part of a group that was trying to break through internal barricades into an area where members of Congress were being evacuated, was shot to death by security. It was a frightening experience, and would not have taken place if Trump had handled his election loss differently.

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But then the spin machine started spinning: Trump insisted that he didn’t bear any responsibility for what had happened and continued to claim the election was stolen from him. Hard-line members of the Republican caucus and right-wing press said the violence had been instigated by “the Deep State” or overblown by the liberal media, then pivoted to an argument that the individuals involved were “patriots” being persecuted for participating in “political discourse.”

Current polls show that while Republican voters do not generally approve of the riot per se, large majorities agree that the election was stolen and don’t think Jan. 6 needs to be investigated. Trump also retains high approval within the party and is its leading candidate for the 2024 nomination.

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Thus, most of the figures who initially felt he deserved to be forced out of public life because of the deadly riot have come around to an opposite position. Among them are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who was a main subject of a Thursday story by New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin. (The story was adapted from their new book This Will Not Pass.)

The pair write that McCarthy told other Republican leaders in a phone call on Jan. 10 that he believed an impeachment vote was likely to pass and planned on asking Trump to resign.

In public, McCarthy would soon strike a different tone. On Jan. 13, he delivered a speech from the floor of Congress in which he denounced the rioting and said Trump bore “responsibility” for the violence. But he argued against impeaching the president because it would divide the country, and called on members to vote on a censure resolution instead. He would fully reconcile with Trump before January 2021 was even over, and is currently refusing to cooperate with the House committee investigating the riot.

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On Thursday, McCarthy issued a statement describing the Times’ report as “totally false and wrong.” His spokesman told the newspaper, with great specificity, that McCarthy had never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign.

So Burns and Martin provided MSNBC with an audio tape of McCarthy in a phone call with Republican leaders on Jan. 10, 2021. Regarding the subject of Trump and impeachment, McCarthy tells his colleagues, “What I think I’m going to do is call him.” He continues: “The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign.” So, that’s that: McCarthy and his spokesman both lied.

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This creates a threat to McCarthy’s position as the person most likely to be speaker of the House if Republicans retake the chamber, but not because it’s taken for granted that the speaker of the House should be trustworthy and possessed of the courage of his convictions. It’s because other Republicans are concerned that the revelation of McCarthy’s original take on Jan. 6 might mean Trump doesn’t support him anymore:

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Despite McCarthy’s claims, which are reportedly based on a conversation he had with Trump Thursday night after the audio emerged, the Washington Post says that “House Republicans are still waiting for a firm statement from Trump, according to multiple GOP aides, on how to determine whether they should still back McCarthy as their current leader and potential speaker.”

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The good news for McCarthy is that Trump’s reportedly not upset, because he believes that the demonstration that McCarthy will lie to the public on his behalf makes him (Trump) look strong:

So that’s the end, of both this post and maybe, in 2024, of the continuity of American democratic government!

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