WASHINGTON — Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy had a “positive” call with Donald Trump and appeared to face a minor political backlash on Friday following the release of an audio in which he suggested the president resign soon. after the Capitol uprising of January 6, 2021.
McCarthy worked quickly to build Republican support, calling and texting numerous lawmakers about his conversation with Trump as he rushed to contain the fallout.
In the audio, first published Thursday by The New York Times and broadcast on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, McCarthy is heard discussing with House Republicans Democratic efforts to remove Trump from office after supporters of the President stormed the Capitol.
In the recording of a Jan. 10, 2021, discussion, McCarthy says he would say to Trump, “I think that will pass, and it would be my recommendation that you resign.”
McCarthy released a statement Thursday calling the report “totally untrue and misguided.” His spokesman, Mark Bednar, told the newspaper, “McCarthy never said he would call Trump to say he should resign.”
But on Friday, the Times released another recording, this time of a Republican conference call from Jan. 11, 2021. In the audio, McCarthy can be heard telling his caucus that he asked the former president if he felt responsible for the murderous insurgency and that Trump acknowledged some responsibility.
“I asked him personally today, is he responsible for what happened?” says McCarthy on this recording. “Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me that he had some responsibility for what had happened and that he had to admit it.
The release of the audio could threaten the Republican House leader’s grip on power. McCarthy is in line to become president if Republicans win control in the fall election, and he depends heavily on Trump’s support to get there. But a person familiar with McCarthy’s Thursday call with Trump described it as “positive.”
“I’m not mad at you,” Trump told McCarthy in a Thursday afternoon call, according to a second person familiar with the conversation. The two people were granted anonymity to discuss the call. McCarthy and his office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Trump’s call.
Trump and McCarthy had a strained relationship immediately after the Capitol attack but mended their alliance after the GOP leader flew to the former president’s Florida resort to settle their differences.
Thursday’s Times report was adapted from a forthcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” by journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns.
There is no evidence that McCarthy actually told Trump he should step down. In the same conversation, McCarthy told colleagues he doubted Trump would take the advice to stand down rather than be pushed.
“That would be my recommendation,” McCarthy said in response to a question from Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who would become a vocal critic of Trump. “I don’t think he will take it, but I don’t know.”
The crowd that attacked the Capitol marched there from a rally near the White House where Trump implored them to fight to overturn the election result. However, he strongly denied any responsibility for the violence.
Trump remains the most popular figure in the Republican Party, despite his role in instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection and his refusal to accept the 2020 election results.
McCarthy indicated during an interview with The Associated Press this week in California how important Trump remains to his party and his chances of taking control of the House this fall. “He’s going to motivate, get a lot of people out,” McCarthy said at a GOP event in Fresno.
President Joe Biden, when asked about McCarthy’s situation on Friday, said, “It’s not your dad’s Republican Party.”
Biden suggested that Trump’s grip on the GOP is strong. “It’s a MAGA party now,” he told reporters, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The audio depicts a very different McCarthy from the one who has led House Republicans for the past year and a half and remained allied with Trump even after delivering a speech in the House shortly after January 6, during of which he called the Attack on the Capitol “un-American”. At the time, McCarthy called the assault one of the saddest days of his career and told fellow Republicans that Trump “bears responsibility” for the violence.
Even after the violence, however, McCarthy joined half of House Republicans in voting to challenge Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Since then, the California Republican has distanced himself from any criticism of Trump and avoided linking him directly to what happened. Weeks after the Capitol siege, McCarthy said he did not believe Trump instigated the attack, as other prominent Republicans at the time had said.
Instead, McCarthy has moved closer to Trump, visiting the former president at his Florida residence in Mar-a-Lago.
McCarthy, 57, has strategically charted his own tricky path to the speaker’s hammer, well aware of the support he will need from far-right members who have created headaches with actions and statements arsonists.
No other Republican leader in the House has amassed the position to challenge McCarthy for the leadership. McCarthy recruited the class of newcomers bolstering the ranks of the GOP and raised millions to support Republican campaigns. He has tried to temper his closest rivals, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, even as he pushes for the votes needed to become president.
As long as Trump continues to support McCarthy, whom he once affectionately called “My Kevin”, the job is up for grabs for the Californian.
Several Republican lawmakers came out in force Friday to defend McCarthy and reiterate that his road to the presidency is still on track.
Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, tweeted that in a few months Republicans will regain a majority and “and Kevin McCarthy will be Speaker of the House.”
On a Fox Business show, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina said she backed McCarthy “100 percent.”
Yet McCarthy was also a person of interest for the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol storming. The select committee, which Cheney vice-chairman, requested an interview with McCarthy in mid-January, seeking information about his communications with Trump and White House staff in the week following the violence, including a conversation with Trump which would have been stormy.
McCarthy released a statement at the time saying he would refuse to cooperate because he considered the investigation not legitimate and accused the panel of “abuse of power”.