The more his members pressed him, the angrier McCarthy grew. “Do you want to give me your voter’s card?” You never want to do that,” McCarthy replied, according to five Republicans who were on a Jan. 1, 2021, call in which the certification process was discussed. He declined to say what he would do when he inserted his own voting card into the electronic slots in the House chamber that signaled his decision on whether or not to certify Biden’s victory.
The result was that just five days before a rioting mob attacked the Capitol in a bid to prevent Biden from taking office, McCarthy essentially refused to lead. Under heavy pressure from Trump, who urged his supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6, House Republicans — who have been tasked with the Senate to certify the Electoral College tally that day — failed to been able to get clarity from their leader on his plans.
They were left to decide what his words meant.
More than a year later, January 6 still looms large in the nation’s consciousness as mob members stand trial and a congressional panel investigates the events surrounding that day. And McCarthy’s leadership, his loyalty to Trump and his contradictory statements about the day are heavily criticized.
The California Republican is now under fire for statements he made in the days, weeks and months following Jan. 6. An upcoming book by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns uses audio recordings of GOP conference calls in the days following the attack to show that McCarthy was furious with Trump and even considered telling him to step down. as president a few days before the expiration of his term and before Trump was impeached.
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These private statements conflict with the approach McCarthy has taken towards the ex-president since late January 2021, after visiting Trump at his Palm Beach, Florida resort and pledging his loyalty to the former president. to try to unify the Republican Party as we approach the 2022 midterms.
But McCarthy’s refusal to show leadership in the days leading up to Jan. 6 set the stage for his GOP caucus to be bitterly divided. McCarthy eventually joined two-thirds of House Republicans, voting after the uprising, in opposing certification of Biden’s victory, while one-third voted to support his clear victory.
McCarthy’s uncertainty about his own Jan. 6 vote confirmed to his internal GOP rivals that he feared Trump. His supporters just saw this lack of guidance as his way of holding himself back and seeing how the majority would shatter on the Electoral College challenge.
A week after that vote, McCarthy began a brief period of publicly blaming Trump for the riot, but he also voted against impeaching a president who was due to leave office seven days later.
And McCarthy’s inaction before this crucial vote, as well as his inconsistent positions since, suggests he will be a politically weak House speaker if Republicans can win a majority in November and can muster the minimum 218 votes on his side of the aisle in the roll call vote of January 3 to lead the House.
McCarthy also took a markedly different approach to Trump than that of his Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). During a conference call with Senate Republicans on Dec. 31, 2020, McConnell said he would vote to confirm Biden’s victory and that it would be the “most important” vote in his 36 years in the Senate, according to reports. published that day.
About 30 minutes before the Capitol was to be breached on Jan. 6, McConnell publicly attacked Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud, warning that if Trump were successful in voiding the election, the result would be devastating.
“Our democracy would enter a death spiral,” McConnell said in a speech to the Senate.
Only 12 Senate Republicans indicated they would vote to oppose Biden’s victory, and after the riot, four of them backed down. Some 43 Senate Republicans, or nearly 85% of McConnell’s caucus, backed Biden’s victory.
McConnell isn’t exactly a profile of courage in his opposition to Trump’s high-handed ways. He has generally refused to speak about the ex-president since voting to acquit him in the February 2021 impeachment trial, a decision, according to Martin and Burns’ book, that came after realizing how little of GOP senators were prepared to oppose Trump.
Pressed by reporters these days, he will simply note that he hasn’t spoken to Trump since the day in December 2020 when he congratulated Biden on his victory.
But McConnell’s clear actions before Jan. 6 helped galvanize the vast majority of Senate Republicans to vote the way they preferred on certification. McConnell has since taken on Trump’s grief. But it’s one of the most necessary qualities of leadership: the willingness to take incoming fire yourself to protect the base.
McCarthy doesn’t like to absorb slingshots and arrows for his limbs. His greatest strength is his knowledge of lawmakers, constantly talking to them about Congress, their personal lives, and their political standing back home. A Republican who clashed with McCarthy a decade ago, only to catch up a few years later, accurately described him as a “relationship savant” when McCarthy ascended to second place in leadership in 2014, a meteoric rise for someone first elected in 2006.
For years, the word “affable” found its way into almost every profile of McCarthy, explaining why he was so well-liked and would continue to be so despite the lack of any deep political training.
But that reputation as everyone’s best friend has also left McCarthy without a key ingredient of leadership: the ability to instill fear in his underlings.
In the nearly 16 months since her caucus split on Jan. 6, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) has been the only Republican to face public punishment — as McCarthy has helped her to quitting her leadership team when she continued to speak out against Trump’s high-handed ways.
The Early 202: Another sign of Liz Cheney’s move away from the GOP
One by one, members of the more far-right pro-Trump wing took public action that deserved some form of rebuke. Instead, the greatest discipline they received came in private talks with McCarthy.
As January 6 approached, McCarthy took cover. He worried that he wouldn’t tell lawmakers which buttons to press when they swiped their voting cards through slots in the House chamber.
When the New Year’s conference call began, Cheney led the initial conference in her role as House Republican Conference Speaker, the No. 3 post after McCarthy and minority whip Steve Scalise (R-La. ).
Cheney, who had already broken sharply against Trump, detailed her reasons for supporting Biden’s victory (and followed two days later with a 21-page memo she penned explaining her position).
“That’s not the position of leadership,” McCarthy said, according to lawmakers and GOP aides who heard the call and spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about the private discussion.
McCarthy made it clear that Cheney was speaking only for herself, prompting other lawmakers to ask about her own intentions. “You have to tell us what your position is,” one lawmaker reminded.
On January 6, just before rioters disrupted the certification process, Scalise was the first Republican to support objections to Biden’s victory.
McCarthy only spoke once during that marathon debate — right after the House reconvened after the riot and went on to certify Biden’s victory. He spoke of unity and coming together.
“Let’s show the country that the crowd didn’t win. We have a job to do,” McCarthy said.
Even then, McCarthy did not specify how he would personally vote to confirm Biden’s victory. Two hours later, the GOP leader voted with the crowd.