House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been at the center of controversy on Capitol Hill after the New York Times released audio of a phone call made in the days after the Jan. 6 attack where McCarthy can be heard disparaging former President Trump and blasting several of his conference members for dangerous rhetoric.
The big picture: McCarthy, one of Trump’s staunchest allies, is on the verge of becoming House speaker after November’s midterms. But his path to success relies on stalwart conservative support: Defections from too many GOP members could scuttle his chances. Here’s what’s happened so far in the aftermath of the tapes:
April 21: Two New York Times reporters publish an excerpt of their book, “This Will Not Pass,” that details a call on Jan. 10, 2021, between McCarthy and other top Republicans in which McCarthy said he planned to urge Trump to resign over the Jan. 6 riot. The Republican leader denies the account, calling it “totally false and wrong.”
- Later that evening, the reporters — Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns — give a tape of the call to the “Rachel Maddow Show” in which McCarthy is heard speaking with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and others about Trump:
McCarthy: “Liz, you on the phone?”
Cheney: “Yeah, I’m, here. Thanks, Kevin. … Are you hearing that he might resign? Is there any reason to think that might happen?”
McCarthy: “I’ve had a few discussions. My gut tells me no. I’m seriously thinking of having that conversation with him tonight. I haven’t talked to him in a couple days. From what I know of him — I mean, you guys all know him, too. Do you think he’d ever back away? But what I think I’m going to do is, I’m going to call him.” …
— Excerpt of the Jan. 10 call.
Key response: McCarthy speaks with Trump in a phone call about the tape. Trump does not appear upset about the audio and is thankful that McCarthy did not actually urge him to step down.
- Trump later tells the Wall Street Journal that his relationship with McCarthy hasn’t been damaged by the recording. “It’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he says. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”
April 26: The New York Times releases audio of another phone call from Jan. 10, 2021, in which McCarthy expresses fear that comments made by far-right Congress members were “putting people in jeopardy.” He voices support for some of his members losing access to Twitter.
- McCarthy later brushes off the significance of the audio during a brief meeting with top House Republicans, saying they should not let it divide members because the conference has more important issues to focus on.
“Tension is too high, the country is too crazy, I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt.”
— McCarthy in the second audio released.
Key response: House Republicans close ranks around McCarthy, though Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) blasts the leader over both tapes while others, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), publicly waver in their loyalty to him.
- During a GOP conference meeting Wednesday morning, McCarthy defends his past comments, arguing that what was published paints an incomplete picture of the call, that he was speaking in hypotheticals and that he never trashes his members publicly.
- He receives a standing ovation from the rank-and-file.
What to watch: The two New York Times reporters who released the audio have said they “have a lot more on tape from this period.”
- “I think it’s going to tell a very different story about this period than the story that many people are trying to tell right now,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.