Kevin McCarthy would like every Republican – especially Donald Trump – to just sort of forget what he said in the immediate aftermath of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. The problem? There’s an increasing amount of evidence that what McCarthy said then directly contradicts what he is saying now about the day.
The latest evidence comes courtesy of CNN’s KFile, which unearthed a local California radio interview McCarthy did on January 12, less than a week after the rally and subsequent riot. “I say he has responsibility,” McCarthy said of Trump. “He told me personally that he does have some responsibility. I think a lot of people do.”
Which mirrors what McCarthy said the following day on the House floor. Here’s the key bit:
“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 by President Trump.”
It’s also consistent with CNN reporting of an “expletive-laced” phone call between McCarthy and Trump on January 6 in which McCarthy pressed the then-President to call for an end to the riot. Trump reportedly said, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
What all of that is NOT consistent with is how McCarthy had sought to frame his words and actions on January 6 and the aftermath.
By April 2021, McCarthy was shifting his story to take the blame off of Trump.
“What I talked to President Trump about, I was the first person to contact him when the riots was going on,” he said in interview on Fox. “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.”
Which is, well, not entirely accurate – even if you take at face value McCarthy’s claim that Trump knew nothing of what was happening at the Capitol until their phone call.
(Sidebar: Coverage of the looming riot was EVERYWHERE on cable throughout that day. And Trump is a massive consumer of cable news.)
McCarthy’s revised timeline – the one he has been spouting since at least last April – doesn’t sync with what we know of Trump’s actions (and inaction) that day.
Just after 4 p.m. on January 6, CNN’s Melissa Mahtani reported this:
“It’s been more than two hours since a chaotic mob of rioters surrounded and breached the Capitol. Despite many calls from both Republican and Democrats for President Trump to demand his supporters leave the Capitol building, the President has not yet done so.”
When Trump did finally issue a video telling rioters to disperse, it wasn’t exactly a forceful scolding. “I know your pain. I know your hurt… But you have to go home now,” Trump said in the video, adding, “We love you. You’re very special.”
That’s very different than the story McCarthy is selling on January 6 these days. It effectively yada yada’s the whole part about Trump not doing much of anything for hours while rioters ransacked the Capitol. Which is, well, sort of key.
Why is McCarthy doing this? Politics – pure and simple. In the days immediately following the insurrection, there was a real sense – among all but the most rabid Trumpers – that he had gone too far and that this episode would effectively be a breaking point between him and the Republican Party writ large.
But, that break never materialized. In fact, the cult of personality surrounding Trump only grew as the country got further from January 6 – to the point that poll after poll shows a majority of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. (There’s zero actual evidence to back up this claim.)
That reality forced a rapid recalculation by McCarthy, who:
a) wants to be Speaker if Republicans win the House majority this fall and
b) knows he has to have the support of the former president (and Trump’s congressional allies) to make that happen.
Suddenly, Trump wasn’t to blame for what happened, but rather someone who jumped to deal with the insurrectionists as soon as he was made aware of them. That this story didn’t – and doesn’t – comport with known and accepted facts was beside the point to McCarthy. His only goal was to get back into Trump’s good graces.
Here’s the problem for McCarthy: We have the receipts. What he said in the week after the riot bears zero resemblance to what he says now. And that matters.