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Kevin McCarthy seemed completely reasonable.
He didn’t want to “play politics” with the Capitol riot; the country was “too crazy” right now.
He wanted his most extreme members to hold him back.
In private calls with his management team, he named names, reacting to the latest reports of who was stoking the flames in the division.
And for that, he is now under fire.
The House Minority Leader, and likely next speaker, must do damage control after the audio of those calls leaked the day after Jan. 6. The recordings were obtained by two New York Times reporters for a book about to be published.
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In early 2021, McCarthy blamed Donald Trump for the riot and told his team he was considering suggesting the president step down. In the spring of 2022, having decided against this course of action, McCarthy has mended the fences with Trump and is trying to keep his party together through the midterm elections.
What is happening now is that the conduct of some ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers is embedded in the larger narrative of what happened on that tragic day and will no doubt come to light when the committee controlled by the Democrats will launch its hearings.
Part of it is partisan politics, of course. But McCarthy’s private comments provide cover for Democrats to argue this is a legitimate area of inquiry.
One of the targets of those taped calls was Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. McCarthy said he would call Gaetz and tell him “this is serious.”[***]to cut that.”
McCarthy’s deputy Steve Scalise said “it’s potentially illegal what he’s doing.”
McCarthy replied, “Well, he puts people in danger. He doesn’t need to do that. We saw what people were doing in the Capitol, you know, they came prepared with a rope and everything. .”
Another talking point was Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who spoke at Trump’s pre-riot rally and said it was time for American patriots to write down the names and “kick buttocks”.
McCarthy said, “You think the president deserves impeachment for his comments? It seems to go deeper than what the president did.”
Other Republicans who have been discussed are Louie Goehmert and Lauren Boebert.
Gaetz fired back, saying of McCarthy and Scalise that “it’s the behavior of weak men, not leaders”. Brooks said “Kevin McCarthy spoke before he knew the facts”.
Rep. Andy Biggs took a harder hit, saying “negotiating with Liz Cheney about whether or not he should encourage President Trump to step down becomes a huge, huge trust issue for me.” Cheney was on a few calls before McCarthy chased her out of management.
And the split on the right was clear when Tucker Carlson objected to McCarthy saying about his dissident members: “Can’t they delete their Twitter accounts too?”
Carlson said on Fox that by promoting “censorship”, McCarthy “looks like an MSNBC contributor”, and that if he or Elise Stefanik wins the presidency, “it would mean we would have a Republican Congress led by a Party puppet Democrat.”
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The California congressman initially denied a Times account that he told colleagues he was considering telling the president he should step down. The audio of the call showed that his refusal was fake.
Asked by Fox’s Bill Melugin, McCarthy said no, because “I never called on the president to step down. He and I have a really good relationship.” But that moves the goalposts, as Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns of The Times never reported that he had such a conversation with Trump.
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McCarthy made a political calculation that being on Trump’s side is crucial to the party’s success. Most Republicans, fearing that the former president will oppose their re-election, have made a similar bet, and therefore must have good ties with Trump. And since Trump insists they side with his rigged election claims, that will be a significant issue this fall — despite what McCarthy and others said 16 months ago.
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McCarthy may well be right on domestic politics. Media say that when he met with the Republican caucus yesterday he explained that he was exploring different scenarios, that the recordings were out of context. And he received a standing ovation.