By Lisa Hagen
A new audio tape contradicted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s denial that he considered urging Donald Trump to resign days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a major revelation that shows how top Republicans privately reacted to the riot and the former president’s handling of it.
McCarthy disputed a passage from a forthcoming book from two New York Times reporters that said four days after the riots he spoke with a group of GOP leaders about how to handle the fallout and how Trump should proceed. The California Republican categorically denied the reporting on Thursday night, but audio obtained by the reporters and later played on MSNBC backed up the conversation and McCarthy’s suggestions of resignation.
It’s not immediately clear what kind of reaction McCarthy might get from fellow Republicans – including fierce Trump allies – or from the former president himself. McCarthy is seen as the likely speaker of the House if Republicans win the majority this November. As of early Friday afternoon, Republicans, including McCarthy and other leaders, are staying silent.
Trump, who spoke at a Heritage Foundation event in Florida on Thursday night, also has yet to comment on the audio tapes. But The Washington Post reported that Trump and McCarthy spoke after the audio leak and that Trump wasn’t angry about the discussion.
Still, his private pushback to Trump could hamper his ability to take the gavel if Republicans feel he can’t be trusted, particularly conservatives who were previously skeptical of his leadership. At best, it’s an unnecessary but temporary distraction for a party well-positioned to make gains in the midterm elections. At worst, he loses his party’s confidence at a critical time. And Trump’s eventual public response will likely set the tone and could neutralize any political consequences.
In the taped remarks, McCarthy discussed the aftermath of Jan. 6 with three other Republicans including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was then in leadership. She was later stripped of her role by House Republicans frustrated with her outspoken criticism of Trump and her impeachment vote. On the Jan. 10 call, McCarthy said he planned to talk with the former president about how he would face another impeachment and the recommendation to resign.
“The only discussion I would have with him is I think [the impeachment resolution] will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign,” McCarthy said on the call, later calling Trump’s actions “unacceptable” and indefensible.
McCarthy hasn’t publicly responded to the revelation of the audio tape, but he issued a statement prior to its release in which he said that the reporting was “totally false and wrong.”
“The past year and a half have proven that our country was better off when President Trump was in the White House and rather than address the real issues facing Americans, the corporate media is more concerned with profiting from manufactured political intrigue from politically-motivated sources,” McCarthy said in a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday.
In the days following the attack, McCarthy publicly condemned Trump in remarks from the House floor saying that the former president “bears responsibility.” A month later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Trump’s actions “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.” But like many in the party, they ultimately stood behind the former president and distanced themselves from the riots. While McCarthy didn’t make the suggestion to Trump about resigning, Congress ultimately did move forward on impeachment.
A week after the Capitol riots, the House impeached Trump for a second time over incitement of insurrection, but he was later acquitted by the Senate. A total of 17 Republicans from both chambers joined Democrats in either impeaching or convicting, but both McCarthy and McConnell opposed the efforts.
Democrats are hoping to use the revelations against McCarthy, but if Trump and Republicans dismiss them, it’s not likely to be a salient attack with more than six months before the midterms.
“Kevin McCarthy is a fraud and a liar,” Democratic National Committee spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement. “Republicans are not fit to govern and Republican majorities would mean little more than complete subservience to Donald Trump.”