WASHINGTON (AP) — House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy told colleagues Wednesday he never asked then-President Donald Trump to resign over the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol as he defended private conversations around the siege that have spilled into the open and jeopardized his leadership.
That’s according to two Republicans in the room for the private morning meeting at GOP headquarters who were granted anonymity to discuss it. McCarthy, who is in line to become House speaker if Republicans win control in the fall midterm election, received a standing ovation.
One Republican in the room said the meeting was “cathartic” for lawmakers. Another voiced confidence that McCarthy would be the next speaker.
Yet amid the show of support, McCarthy was challenged by two of the party’s most hard-right lawmakers — Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — who said they felt particularly singled out by the leadership team for their fiery comments around Jan. 6. Trump ally Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., who helped organize challenges to the 2020 election results, also rose to voice concerns, another Republican said.
But they appeared to be in a dwindling minority as rank-and-file lawmakers rallied around McCarthy, the man who recruited many of them to Congress and is now raising untold millions to help them win back the House majority.
“You guys obsess over January 6. Nobody cares,” Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., told a gaggle of reporters outside House GOP headquarters.
A California Republican long eyeing the speaker’s gavel, McCarthy is at a critical juncture as he works to ascend to the top leadership position. It will be his second try after a failed 2015 bid — but one now fully dependent on his volatile relationship with Trump, who still holds great influence over the party and can make and break careers.
New audio recordings released in recent days by the New York Times portray McCarthy as fed up with Trump in the aftermath of the Capitol attack, when the defeated president rallied his supporters to head to Congress and object to Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
In the recordings, McCarthy is heard telling Republicans privately that he was considering asking Trump to resign. In another recording released late Tuesday, McCarthy warns that dangerous public commentary from Gaetz and others is “putting people in jeopardy” of potential violence.
McCarthy has denied The New York Times account of events, leading Democrats and others to call him a liar, as audio of the secretly recorded calls was released. The House committee investigating Jan. 6 is seeking an interview with him.
On Wednesday, McCarthy stood at party headquarters and defended his actions, suggesting he was merely running through possible scenarios as Democrats moved to impeach Trump in the aftermath of the violent siege.
In the GOP meeting, McCarthy clearly stated that he never asked the president to resign, said one of the Republicans granted anonymity to discuss the private call. He has also publicly said he did not do so. The Times didn’t report that he asked Trump to resign, only that he told members he would.
As president, Trump had affectionately referred to McCarthy as “My Kevin,” one of his earliest endorsers, but their relationship has frayed over time. McCarthy momentarily turned on Trump as his supporters stormed the Capitol that day to disrupt certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win.
In the days after the riot, it seemed Republicans in Washington might part ways with Trump. McCarthy, along with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, gave blistering speeches against Trump, and McCarthy’s public and private conversations at that time show flashes of anger and the depth of angst over the shocking, devastating riot by Trump supporters.
But once Biden took office McCarthy quickly went to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida to patch things up with the defeated president.
Trump and McCarthy spoke last week, and the former president told the leader he was “not mad” about the disclosures.
To become speaker if Republicans win back the House, McCarthy would need to win at least 218 votes.
“President Trump said their relationship has never been stronger. That’s good enough for me,” said Roger Williams, R-Texas. “We’re totally supportive of Kevin McCarthy.”
“He’s got my support. He’s got everybody else’s support, too,” he said.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Alan Fram and video journalist Rick Gentilo contributed to this report.