New audio of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, obtained and reported on by The New York Times on Tuesday, reveals he expressed concern about far-right House Republicans inciting violence against other lawmakers in the aftermath of January 6, 2021.
In the audio, the California Republican repeatedly lamented the inflammatory comments made by some GOP lawmakers following the US Capitol attack – a far different posture than his efforts to downplay Republicans’ role in January 6.
On January 10, 2021, McCarthy urged Republican leaders on a private call to monitor the public statements of lawmakers, such as Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Matt Gaetz of Florida, and alert him of any potentially dangerous messages.
“The country is too crazy,” McCarthy said, according to audio obtained by two New York Times reporters for their upcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future.”
“I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
McCarthy did not respond to questions from reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday regarding the New York Times report. Asked if he was concerned it could hurt his chances of becoming speaker if Republicans win the House in the midterm elections, he said, “Nope.”
The Republican leader had specifically taken issue with a television interview that Gaetz gave attacking Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and other Republicans who criticized former President Donald Trump. “He’s putting people in jeopardy,” McCarthy said of Gaetz, according to the audio. “And he doesn’t need to be doing this. We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise called Gaetz’s conduct “potentially illegal,” according to the Times. Scalise deflected questions about the New York Times report on Tuesday, blasting the “liberal media” for reporting on the insurrection.
“I haven’t seen what they’re referring to. But it’s not surprising that the liberal media wants to keep talking about January 6, because they don’t want to focus on all the crises that President Biden’s created from inflation to gas prices to the border,” he told reporters.
Gaetz blasted McCarthy and Scalise in a statement he tweeted Tuesday night, saying in part that “Rep. McCarthy and Rep. Scalise held views about President Trump and me that they shared on sniveling calls with Liz Cheney, not us. This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Brooks, in response to the report, told CNN in a statement that “Kevin McCarthy spoke before knowing the facts.”
According to the audio, McCarthy grew more pointed when an inflammatory tweet from GOP Rep. Barry Moore of Alabama about rioter Ashli Babbitt was read aloud during the call. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?” McCarthy asked.
Not all GOP lawmakers were eager to rally behind McCarthy following the reporting on the leader’s comments.
Asked by CNN if he’s concerned that McCarthy talked about taking away the Twitter accounts of some conservatives, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona replied, “Heck, yeah.” Hours earlier, he had told OAN that the audio clips of McCarthy’s Trump comments were “problematic” and created a “huge trust issue” – but he was most concerned about McCarthy’s reported comments about social media use.
Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican who’s the head of the House Freedom Caucus, said, “Everybody is accountable for what they say and do,” and added that the idea of taking away Twitter accounts is “not something I’m for.”
Rep. Randy Weber of Texas said he thinks McCarthy will ultimately be forgiven but that “this needs to be a discussion we have as a family in the House Republican conference,” which will meet Wednesday morning.
McCarthy’s comments mark the latest instance of a damning conversation he had in the immediate aftermath of January 6 coming to light.
The California Republican is already facing criticism after separate audio clips revealed contradictory statements he made about Trump.
In one audio clip, he is heard telling GOP leaders in the days following the insurrection that he planned to advise Trump to resign, among other things. McCarthy has since defended his comments, saying he had been walking through potential scenarios about Trump’s fate after the insurrection and hadn’t been advocating any of them.
During a closed-door leadership meeting Tuesday evening, McCarthy addressed the recent controversy, two sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.
After making a joke about whether anyone was recording him, McCarthy explained to his leadership team, as well as committee leaders, that he never asked Trump to resign or brought that idea to the conference.
“Don’t let things like this divide us. We need to stick together,” McCarthy said in concluding his remarks.
In another audio clip obtained and previously reported by the Times, McCarthy told Republican lawmakers on a private conference call that Trump had admitted to bearing some responsibility for the attack.
This story has been updated with additional information Tuesday.
CNN’s Melanie Zanona and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.