“Pelosi had to choose,” McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday, adding that “there would be no different outcome” if he placed some of his members in the selection group. Noting that he had recently spoken to Trump about the matter, McCarthy answered emphatically “no” when asked if the former president’s regrets indicated that the January 6 hearing was effective.
Trump McCarthy’s frustration also shows in his refusal to back the Californian for speaker in a likely GOP majority next year – despite reports that he privately directed McCarthy as “speaker”. And some Republicans on the hill have hinted at lingering tensions between the two after a leaked audio recording in April showed McCarthy suggesting he might ask Trump to resign after Jan. 6. All this puts Republican lawmakers in an uncomfortable position, again distracted by internal conflicts.
But some openly defended McCarthy’s actions at the Jan. 6 hearing.
“Kevin made the only possible decision. What do we do? Let them just functionally silence entire counties?” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (RN.D.), one of the panellists McCarthy initially brought into the discussion. “We don’t always get good hands in the minority.”
Trump’s remarks on McCarthy conservative radio host Wayne Allyn Root has also placed Republicans such as Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus turned McCarthy ally, in a stalemate. Jordan, who is also close to Trump, declined to say whether he thought Trump’s criticism of McCarthy was unfair and tried to shift the blame to Pelosi.
“Let’s say Kevin says ‘I’ll give you new names’ after Pelosi’s veto,” Jordan said in an interview. “There would be a problem. I think she was always going to be here because she wanted a guerrilla show.”
Rep. Eliza Stefanik (RN.Y.), the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, who has grown close to Trump in recent years, also defended McCarthy.
“I really think Kevin handled it properly and the members are supportive of how we handled it,” Stefanik said when asked about Trump’s recent interview.
But Trump’s occasional attacks on McCarthy are symptomatic of a potentially wider problem for the GOP leader: As the former president weighs his own bid for 2024, he leaves enough room to oppose McCarthy if he chooses. Their alliance could solidify as the midterms approach, or just as easily fall apart just as McCarthy prepares for a likely GOP majority next year that could hand him the speaker’s gavel.
And the approval question goes both ways: McCarthy didn’t answer when asked twice if he would support Trump more than anyone else in the 2024 presidential primaries.
“Trump is obviously very upset about the whole Jan. 6 production, and it was predictable. And so he’s just looking for people to lash out at, and I don’t know how long that will last,” said one senior House Republican, who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity. The GOP MP mused that if Trump tried to undermine McCarthy’s bid to become speaker, it would be “pretty hurtful” but not “resolute.”
McCarthy is not the first time this year trying to patch things up with Trump.
Two months ago, McCarthy tried to reassure Republicans in the House of Representatives that Trump was not angry with him after the New York Times ran tapes in which the GOP leader criticized Trump’s role in the January 6 attack and considered asking Trump to step down. a possible verdict of impeachment loomed.
The sound of The Times caused minimal backlash in the Republican House of Representatives in April. Republican lawmakers came to McCarthy’s defense, and some gave him a standing ovation when he addressed the conference about the tape.
And Trump himself seemed unfazed, expressing satisfaction that McCarthy — and others who seemed to have turned their backs on the former president after his supporters stormed the Capitol — has since re-accepted him as party kingpin.
But to a small group of advisers and confidants, Trump expressed anger and frustration at McCarthy’s remarks about him after Jan. 6, according to two Republicans familiar with Trump’s personal reaction. Another senior GOP member said Trump has “a good memory,” adding: “Trump said, ‘It’s all right.’ Everything is fine. Everything is fine.’ But he never forgot it. And someday there will be an opportunity [him to] McCarthy milk.
Trump’s decision to bury any anger, at least publicly, came after leading party figures pushed for GOP unity ahead of November, when they would have a chance to regain a majority in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives.
Trump’s latest remarks to Root about McCarthy clearly deviated from that plan.
“Not having representation on this committee was a bad decision,” Trump told Root, referring to the Jan. 6 panel. “It was a very, very stupid decision because they are trying to pretend they are legal. And it’s only when you get into the inner workings that you say, “What is this thing?” It’s just a one-sided witch hunt.”
McCarthy, for his part, repeatedly contacted the former president to stay in his favor. And he is clear about his intentions to seek the speakership next year, fulfilling a long-standing goal. Maintaining support from his right — a major factor in his failed House hammer bid in 2015 — essentially requires staying on Trump’s good side.
Yet while Trump openly boasts of his power over McCarthy, some Republicans in the House of Representatives see the former president’s latest remarks as unfairly blaming the GOP leader for problems he didn’t create.
“Ninety-nine percent of the shit we’ve been through in the past six years can be directly linked to Trump,” said another senior House Republican, who acknowledged that the Jan. 6 panel did a “good job” of building its case.