House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) continued to defend former president Donald Trump’s response to the Jan. 6 insurrection, claiming in an interview Sunday that Trump was unaware the U.S. Capitol was being stormed until McCarthy called and urged him to tell his supporters to stop.
“I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on,” McCarthy told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “He didn’t see it, but he ended the call . . . 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.”
The statement contradicted McCarthy’s initial response to Trump’s role in the attack and a fellow GOP lawmaker’s recollection of what had been a tense call between McCarthy and Trump. In addition, one Trump adviser told The Washington Post that the then-president had been watching live television coverage of the riot, as multiple people were trying to reach Trump and his aides to beg for help.
Immediately after the insurrection, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) saidMcCarthy had relayed details of his call with Trump. Trump had “initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” Herrera Beutler said, indicating that Trump would have already been aware of the siege when McCarthy spoke to him.
According to Herrera Beutler, after McCarthy told Trump it was his supporters storming the Capitol, Trump responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
On Sunday, when Wallace asked whether Trump had said that, McCarthy repeatedly refused to answer directly.
“Listen, my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president,” McCarthy told Wallace. “I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time. The president said he would help.”
The violent siege by a pro-Trump mob left five people dead, including a police officer. Two other officers on duty that day later died by suicide, and more than 100 officers were injured after being harassed, beaten and sprayed with gas substances by the mob.
Trump released a video statement the day of the attack, but long after the worst of the siege had subsided. The taped message reiterated the lie that the election had been stolen and ended with Trump telling his supporters: “We love you. You’re very special.”
On Jan. 13, a week after the insurrection, McCarthy said in a House floor speechthat Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol attack and even floated the idea of censuring Trump, though McCarthy did not support his impeachment.
About two weeks later, after President Biden had been inaugurated, McCarthy flew to Florida to meet with Trump. There, they discussed helping Republicans take back the House in 2022, and McCarthy praised Trump’s popularity as having “never been stronger.”
On Sunday, McCarthy denied that Trump has called him since to direct him not to discuss their Jan. 6 phone call with investigators.
McCarthy’s latest efforts to defend Trump are the most vivid illustration of a Republican Party that continues to be closely tied to the former president, despite a small number of GOP voices saying it would be better for the party to distance itself from Trump.
McCarthy has tried to have it all ways. On Sunday, he claimed he has stopped “loud voices” in the GOP when they get too extreme, although he has acted more as a moderator between factions of his party rather than stopping the fiercest wing of Trump supporters.
Most recently, McCarthy tweeted his opposition to the formation of an “America First Caucus” within the GOP. He has come to the defense of House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) after her vote to impeach Trump led to calls within the party to remove her from GOP leadership. But McCarthy also opposed committee privileges being revoked from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Democrats and 11 Republicans voted to remove Greene from her committees following bombastic comments considered conspiratorial and racist.
Efforts in Congress to create a 9/11-style commission to investigate what happened Jan. 6 have stalled. Conversations about such a commission began several days after insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, but more than three months later, Democrats and Republicans have not been able to agree on the structure of a commission.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) initially pushed back against Republican demands for an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on the commission and for both parties to have subpoena power. But during the past week, she agreed to those terms in hopes Republicans come to the table on the commission’s scope, which remains the most contested point.
Democrats want the commission to focus on the extremism that led to the assault on the Capitol, including an overview of how Trump and other Republicans may have encouraged his base to storm the Capitol. Republicans want to also examine the rise of violence from far-left groups.
“Why do they object to the scope, which is to find the truth of what happened on Jan. 6?” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “Our purpose is to find the truth for that. It’s not about investigating one thing or another that they may want to draw interest.”