Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, has been working behind the scenes to manage the repercussions from his damaging and inconsistent conversations with other GOP legislators about then-President Donald Trump in the days following the election.
According to various Republicans, the California Republican called key GOP lawmakers on Friday and spoke with Trump on the phone Thursday night.
And he has so far managed to calm nerves within the House GOP Conference and avert a public revolt from his right flank, which could jeopardize his path to the speakership if Republicans win the House — depending on the size of their potential majority, which his closest advisers are attempting to increase to avoid any problems.
McCarthy is expected to address the issue when Republicans meet privately next Wednesday, hoping to move past a controversy that revealed his privately held views of Trump soon after the January 6, 2021, attack, comments that he initially denied making only to have secret recordings flatly contradict his public assertions.
Some Republicans expected that there would be pyrotechnics during Wednesday’s closed-door meeting when McCarthy is forced to answer awkward questions about his previous remarks, but that the scandal would eventually fade away.
McCarthy has told GOP legislators that Trump isn’t angry with him because of the bombshell story and audio excerpts from The New York Times, in which McCarthy is overheard telling other GOP leaders that he planned to counsel Trump to quit, among other things. McCarthy never did tell then-President Barack Obama to resign, which is one of the reasons Trump doesn’t harbor a grudge, according to GOP sources.
According to a Republican who spoke with McCarthy on Friday, McCarthy has stated to allies that he believed he was acting in Trump’s best interests, given the bipartisan movement to impeach and convict him after January 6, and that it would have been easier for the then-President to simply quit.
On Friday, a senior House Republican told CNN that he spoke with McCarthy, who informed him that “Trump was fine.”
Furthermore, McCarthy’s early condemnation of Trump after January 6 was widely publicized and shared by many others inside the Republican Party. McCarthy returned to embracing Trump a few weeks later, downplaying his role in the attack and working hard to stay in Trump’s good graces.
Members and aides further say that the fact that McCarthy initially made a statement adamantly denying he was considering asking Trump to quit before being presented with the recording on Thursday night is irrelevant to most House Republicans, who likewise have a tense relationship with the press. In fact, one GOP source said that lying to The New York Times may be considered as a “badge of honor” by McCarthy within the conference.
Several other Republicans, on the other hand, admitted that lying to the public about his interaction is a political issue that he’ll have to address.
McCarthy hasn’t yet made it out of the woods: Trump’s most ardent supporters on Capitol Hill, who still follow his lead, will want to hear directly from the former President before making any decisions.
Republicans are also ready for the possibility of a third shoe to drop. McCarthy reportedly privately bemoaned days after the insurgency that Twitter should take away additional Republican lawmakers’ Twitter accounts, according to the Times; tape of that conversation has yet to be disclosed.
That conversation, according to GOP lawmakers and aides, could be the most damning and problematic for McCarthy, because it contradicts the party’s crusade against Big Tech and calls to end alleged conservative censorship, and McCarthy has previously been questioned about his support for Silicon Valley.
The magnitude of the Republican majority next year, if the GOP wins the House in November, could ultimately preserve McCarthy. A smaller majority would give Trump zealots in the conference greater power to oust him, but a larger majority — say, 20 seats or more — would neutralize that wing.
McCarthy’s supporters have already announced plans to spend record amounts of money to retake the House and form a “governing majority.”
“We’re aiming to expand the map deep into Democrat-held territory so that future Speaker McCarthy can pass a conservative governing agenda and get things done,” Dan Conston, head of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a McCarthy-aligned super PAC, stated.
With the exception of conservative firebrand Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who has long been openly critical of McCarthy, there has been no public condemnation from House Republicans in the aftermath of the Times revelation. Congress is also on break for the Easter holiday, and won’t be back until next Monday.
However, in the aftermath of the audio, many Republicans have gone to McCarthy’s support. McCarthy was emailed only to let him know “how much I value his leadership and friendship” and that “he has my complete support,” according to one senior House Republican.
“In November, Republicans will reclaim the majority, and Kevin McCarthy will be our speaker,” said freshman Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson of Iowa.