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Newly-released audio reveals that Kevin McCarthy supported ousting Trump after Jan. 6


In their forthcoming book, New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns offer new details about how Republican congressional leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell privately supported removing Donald Trump from office for his role in helping foment the January 6 attack on the Capitol. McCarthy yesterday called the report, quote, "totally false and wrong." And then the reporters offered up their receipts late last night by releasing audio they obtained from a January 10 phone call. It backs up their reporting and makes clear McCarthy lied. Here's the key portion of that tape.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: Again, I mean, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign.

ESTRIN: Trump, of course, did not resign, and McCarthy quickly realigned himself as a loyalist to the former president. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Hi, Sue.


ESTRIN: So it's rare to catch any politician so clearly in a lie. How is this reverberating on Capitol Hill?

DAVIS: Well, I think what matters most for McCarthy here is what Republicans make of it. And in that sense, it hasn't made a ton of waves. You know, privately, a lot of Republican lawmakers felt the exact same way McCarthy did in those immediate days after the attack. But McCarthy has since repeatedly and consistently proven that he's going to be loyal to former President Trump, even clearly over his own personal moral objections.

So while both McCarthy and McConnell were horrified by Trump's actions that day - and, in many ways, they said so publicly at the time - it became pretty clear to both of them that their members did not share that horror and they wouldn't have the support to move forward with any kind of punitive actions against Trump. McCarthy famously flew to Mar-a-Lago and was photographed with Trump just weeks after the attack. McConnell flirted with voting to convict Trump in the impeachment trial but ultimately didn't because, as they also report in their book, McConnell told a friend, quote, "I didn't get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference."

ESTRIN: Now, Trump and McCarthy have had a pretty rocky relationship. McCarthy was not originally a Trump supporter back in 2016. They had a falling out immediately after January 6. But they are right now seen as close allies. And McCarthy is on the path to become speaker if Republicans win the House in November. So do you think this tape could hurt McCarthy's chances?

DAVIS: It seems unlikely, and here's why. You know, President Trump values loyalty to him above all else. And what this episode illuminates very brightly is that McCarthy's going to be loyal no matter what. I mean, why would Trump not want that man to be speaker? You know, it's not like lying to The New York Times is a disqualifying act to Donald Trump or, honestly, to most House Republicans. So as long as Trump wants McCarthy to be speaker, it's hard to see how these revelations change much.

There's no one else angling for the job among House Republicans, and the lawmakers who would most likely be troublemakers for McCarthy are the Trump loyalists. So if it's OK by Trump, it's going to be OK by them. You know, that being said, if Trump were to publicly pull support for McCarthy, then, yes, he would have a problem on his hands.

ESTRIN: Briefly, Sue, Republicans are very well-positioned in the midterms. Trump has not ruled out running again in 2024. Is it fair to conclude here that the events of January 6 did absolutely nothing to dim his power within the party?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, the big picture here is next year, Congress could be led by two men who will clearly set aside any personal objections to Trump's actions because they don't have the support from within to do otherwise. McCarthy's already said he would shut down the committee investigating the January 6 attack. And McConnell's already said if Trump wins the nomination, he will support him for president again.

ESTRIN: OK. NPR's Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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