McCarthy defends January 6 audio

A California Republican with a long eye on the president’s gavel, McCarthy is at a critical juncture as he strives to ascend to the top leadership position. It will be his second attempt after a failed bid in 2015 – but now entirely dependent on his volatile relationship with Trump, who still wields great influence in the party and can make and break careers.

New audio recordings released in recent days by The New York Times portray McCarthy as fed up with Trump following the attack on Capitol Hill, when the defeated president rallied his supporters to head to Congress and oppose the election victory of Democrat Joe Biden.

In the recordings, McCarthy is heard telling Republicans privately that he was considering asking Trump to step down. In another recording released Tuesday night, McCarthy warns that dangerous public comments by Gaetz and others “put people at risk” of potential violence.

McCarthy denied the New York Times account of events, leading Democrats and others to call him a liar, as audio of the secretly recorded calls was released. The House committee investigating Jan. 6 is seeking an interview with him.

On Wednesday, McCarthy stood at party headquarters and defended his actions, suggesting he was just racing through possible scenarios as Democrats attempt to impeach Trump in the wake of the violent siege.

At the GOP meeting, McCarthy made it clear that he never asked the president to step down, Republicans said. He has also publicly stated that he did not. The Times did not report that he asked Trump to resign, only that he told Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and other members that he would.

As president, Trump had affectionately referred to McCarthy as “My Kevin”, one of his earliest endorsers, but their relationship frayed over time. McCarthy momentarily turned on Trump as his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to disrupt certification of Biden’s 2020 presidential victory.

In the days following the riot, it looked like Republicans in Washington might part ways with Trump. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell delivered scathing speeches against Trump, and McCarthy’s public and private conversations at the time show flashes of anger and depth of angst over the shocking and devastating riot of Trump supporters.

But once Biden took office, McCarthy quickly traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida to smooth things over with the defeated president.

Trump and McCarthy spoke last week, and the former president told the leader he was “not mad” about the revelations.

To become president if Republicans regain the House, McCarthy would need to win at least 218 votes.

“President Trump said their relationship has never been stronger. That’s good enough for me,” said Roger Williams, R-Texas. “We totally support Kevin McCarthy.”

“He has my support. He also has the support of everyone else,” he said.

Still, Gaetz and other critics remain a force McCarthy must contend with, much like lawmakers six years ago who denied him support to become president. He abruptly abandoned the race.

Gaetz tweeted Tuesday night that private comments from McCarthy and Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican leader, to Cheney and others are “the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”

Among the former rivals for the Speaker’s Hammers, Louisiana’s Scalise is no longer outwardly pursuing McCarthy for the job and has in fact found himself enveloped in the Jan. 6 fallout.

Scalise also faced questions Wednesday at the private meeting after The Times reported he joined McCarthy in raising concerns about Gaetz’s public comments at the time, Republicans said.

Scalise said the call was a private conversation and no one was charged with anything.

In a statement, Scalise said “it’s pathetic” that this is what the media chooses to cover. He said that with inflation, crime and other issues, it’s obvious that Democrats and the media “continue to double down on their Jan. 6 obsession” to distract the public from “the absolutely lamentable of the country”.

Still, other Republicans remained evasive about McCarthy. When asked if he still had the votes to be party leader, Rep. Ralph Norman, R.S.C., replied, “Time will tell.”

On the Democratic side, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the caucus chairman who is also seen as a potential presidential candidate if Democrats retain control, dismissed the Republican strategy to win back the House as nothing but lies.

“Every day is a five-point playbook: Number one, lie. Number two, lie. Number three, lie. Number four, lie. Number five, lie again,” he said.

Jeffries said it would be nice if, “instead of the infighting, the chaos, the gunshots being fired at each other, the knife is fighting in a phone booth which is the modern House Republican Conference, that they decide in fact to work with us on issues of importance to the American people.”

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