Will McCarthy last in the GOP?
Certain tapes may hinder the California Republican’s quest for Speaker of the House, especially if Trump speaks out against him.
Newly leaked audio reveals that Kevin McCarthy wanted Donald Trump to resign in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurgency, prompting the former president’s allies to question McCarthy’s fitness for the top role in the House.
While the GOP leader remains the clear favorite to be Speaker in 2023, given Republicans’ hopes of regaining control of the House, it might jeopardize McCarthy’s chances of gaining a critical block of pro-Trump Republicans — especially if Trump publicly opposes McCarthy’s speakership ambition.
Though most House Republicans kept quiet Friday — and some suggested the matter would die down — some of Trump’s close supporters said McCarthy would need to spend months proving his pro-Trump bona. Most of Washington was waiting for a public signal from Trump on responding to the McCarthy recording or for McCarthy to clarify his Jan. 10, 2021 statements, particularly why he first denied saying them.
Early signs suggested that Trump advisers were downplaying the latest disclosures’ impact on Trump and McCarthy’s relationship.
One of Trump’s former spokesmen, Jason Miller, told POLITICO, “I would be highly surprised if President Trump allowed these left-of-center journalists and pundits to gain a victory by engaging in this warfare.”
According to a source familiar with the issue, McCarthy and Trump discussed the fresh revelations Thursday night, originally published in audio acquired by the New York Times. According to a source familiar with the situation, Trump “was not upset” by the statement’s original New York Times report. Still, they did not know how he would react to the audiotape release that confirmed it. McCarthy and Trump’s chat was first reported by the Washington Post.
The tape shows McCarthy prepared to publicly disassociate himself from Trump in the aftermath of the tragic riot, just as House Democrats were drafting an impeachment resolution.
As regards the impeachment resolution, McCarthy said, “Again, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign,” “Um, I mean that would be my take, but I don’t think he would take it. But I don’t know.”
McCarthy reportedly expressed anxiety that Trump would approach him about seeking a pardon from Vice President Mike Pence, who would have assumed the presidency if Trump resigned. McCarthy was joined on the call by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo. ), the third-ranking Republican at the time, and other Republican leaders. They briefly addressed the possibility of Trump’s Cabinet using the 25th Amendment, which would allow Trump to be removed from office instantly, and McCarthy disclosed he had spoken with Trump within the previous “couple of days.”
Cheney’s and House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) spokespeople denied recording the call or sharing the tape. A representative for House Republicans’ campaign chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), did not immediately reply to a request for comment. McCarthy’s office has not replied to many requests for comment since the tapes were released. Earlier Thursday, Trump advisers called the New York Times piece “totally false and wrong,” claiming that the audio has now been debunked.
The call highlights how GOP leaders were prepared to leave Trump after the assault — only for McCarthy to re-enter Trump’s camp quickly. McCarthy, who had previously denied intentions to seek Trump’s resignation before the audio was leaked, has become one of Trump’s staunchest supporters, working to obstruct congressional investigations into the Jan. 6 incident. He threatened tech corporations with penalties if they cooperated with House investigators on Jan. 6. He scrapped the idea of a 9/11 commission-style investigation into the attack, despite deputizing a Republican legislator who developed a bipartisan proposal.
McCarthy’s campaign to become the next Speaker of the House may be threatened by releasing the audiotape from the days after the attack. Trump still has considerable power among House Republicans. His reaction to McCarthy’s newly public remarks may ripple through the caucus and among the candidates most likely to help Republicans retake control of the House next year.
One pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus member, who requested anonymity to talk freely, said they weren’t ready to comment yet because they wanted to “give Kevin a time to respond FULLY.”
At least one Republican legislator, Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, expressed her full support for McCarthy, adding, “Republicans will take back the majority in November. When we do, Kevin McCarthy will be our Speaker.”
Furthermore, sources familiar with Trump’s reaction to the recording felt the former president had overall good views about the entire incident. “Trump couldn’t give a fuck and thinks it’s funny and makes him look strong and powerful,” said a person familiar with the former president’s reaction. “I’ve had enough people who have talked to him say that he thinks it’s funny, and he thinks it makes him look good and told Kevin, ‘Don’t worry, you’re all good.’ Trump’s mercurial and can always change his mind — see some coverage he doesn’t like, change his mind — but as of now, he’s just like this makes me look powerful.”
Nonetheless, even Trump supporters who had previously criticized McCarthy were ready to jump on the GOP leader — if only for attempting to deny the statements when the reporters had receipts.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who worked with Trump to overturn the election and received a presidential pardon on charges of defrauding Trump supporters who thought they were donating money to help build a southern border wall, called McCarthy’s denial of the remarks a “cardinal sin” on his podcast.
Joining Bannon, Trump associate Boris Epshteyn described the audio as “extremely hurtful to hopes that Kevin McCarthy has to become speaker.”
“Kevin McCarthy’s got a big problem,” Epshteyn said. “If he can do something to mend fences and prove himself to the MAGA movement … that’s upon him to do.”
The recording also served as a reminder that McCarthy turned down a request from the Jan. 6 select committee to discuss his conversations with Trump immediately after Jan. 6. McCarthy slammed the panel at the time, saying he had nothing new to offer to what was already widely known. The audio demonstrates that McCarthy still possessed knowledge that was not publicly recognized.
McCarthy’s public views on the Capitol attack had “shifted substantially” after meeting with Trump on Jan. 28, 2021, in Mar-a-Lago in Florida, according to the committee’s letter inviting him to appear on Jan. 6. Congressional investigators wanted to know if Trump or his associates discussed publicly what the Republican leader should say about Jan. 6 during the impeachment trial or later probes.