Days after a bipartisan agreement was reached in the House to form a commission to examine the roots and events of the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced Tuesday that he opposes the bill.
“Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” said McCarthy.
Which doesn’t make any sense because, well, the legislation that would have created the commission was developed by Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) and John Katko (R-New York). And Katko had made clear that he was negotiating on behalf of and with the imprimatur of the Republican leadership.
So, what’s really going on here? Why would McCarthy throw Katko directly under the bus – sending a message to every rank and file Republican that the leadership has zero problem making you look like a fool if it behooves them?
Two reasons, actually.
1) McCarthy doesn’t want to testify under oath about his phone conversation with former President Donald Trump on January 6. As CNN reported, Trump told McCarthy on that call that the rioters “are more upset about the election than you are” and the GOP leader responded by insisting that the people overrunning the Capitol were backers of the President and that he needed to tell them to stand down.
A week after the riot, here’s what McCarthy said on the House floor about Trump and the riot:
“The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action of President Trump.”
But, as it became increasingly clear that even Trump’s role inciting these rioters would not turn the GOP base away from him, McCarthy changed his tune. In late April, in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” McCarthy said this about his January 6 call with Trump:
“What I talked to President Trump about, I was the first person to contact him when the riots was going on. He didn’t see it. What he ended the call was saying – telling me, he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.”
That is, of course, fundamentally inaccurate. Trump waited hours before releasing any sort of statement about the riot. And, when he did call on the rioters to go home, he reiterated the Big Lie about the 2020 election. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it,” Trump said in a video released by the White House that day. “Especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace.”
The broader point here is that McCarthy has been VERY cagey about that January 6 phone call – and there continues to be questions about whether Trump and McCarthy have spoken about the call since January 6.
“Leader McCarthy has spoken to a number of people in – in large groups and small groups since the sixth about his exchanges with the President,” said Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (R) on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it’s very important that, you know, he clearly has facts about that day, that an investigation into what happened, into the president’s actions, ought to get to the bottom of. And I think that he has important information that needs to be part of any investigation, whether it’s the FBI, the Department of Justice, or this commission that I – I hope will be set up.”
2) McCarthy wants to be speaker badly. Last week, McCarthy led the charge to remove Cheney as the third-ranking Republican in the House because she voted to impeach Trump for his role on January 6 – and her outspoken belief that the former President should not play a central role in the party’s future. His decision on the January 6 commission has to be seen in relation to that move, as both are based on this reality: The Republican base doesn’t believe that Trump lost the election – and is already seeking to rewrite the history of January 6.
McCarthy has drawn the conclusion that there is no path to the House majority in 2022 that doesn’t run through total and complete support for Trump. And, selfishly, that the best way for him to ensure that he will be the choice for speaker if and when Republicans win the majority is to stand in total opposition to anything that tries to put blame for January 6 insurrection on Trump.
Combine those two factors and you see why McCarthy was willing to totally and publicly undermine Katko in support of both his personal and political ambitions. It’s transparent, yes. But McCarthy is playing hardball to keep his political career on track.