Newsletter: Angry over the Jan. 6 hearings, Trump turns on Kevin McCarthy

A man at a lectern
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the House minority leader, speaks at the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim on April 23.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Former President Trump is not pleased by the televised hearings into the plotting that led up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“The Unselect Pseudo-Committee has coordinated with their media puppets to broadcast their witnesses on national television without any opposition, cross-examination, or rebuttal evidence,” Trump complained in a 12-page screed he issued earlier this month, after the second hearing held by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Since then, from his Mar-a-Lago resort, where associates have said the former president is unhappily, but intensely, watching television, the complaints have continued to echo: “Unfair,” “witch hunt” and, most repeatedly, no defenders.

That last fact is in part Trump’s own fault — his opposition defeated an earlier plan for a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. But, of course, in Trump’s world, there’s always someone else to blame.

This time, it’s the House Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

One-way loyalty

McCarthy’s sin, in Trump’s telling, was his failure to cut a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to place loyal Republicans on the House panel.

“Unfortunately, a bad decision was made,” Trump told Wayne Allyn Root, the conservative talk show host, on his program over the weekend.

Then, when Root, almost in passing, mentioned that Trump had endorsed McCarthy’s quest to become speaker of the House, Trump dropped a verbal grenade that has continued to reverberate from Washington to McCarthy’s home in Bakersfield.


“No,” he said, interrupting Root. “I endorsed him in his race. But I haven’t endorsed anybody for speaker.”

It would be far too early to say that Trump intends to oppose McCarthy. Even if he wanted to, it’s not clear that any other Republican could command a majority of the fractious House GOP caucus. And certainly, no Republican who does harbor thoughts of challenging McCarthy would tip his hand this early. For now, at least, most House Republicans appear to be sticking with their leader.

But Trump’s remark made clear he intends to keep McCarthy guessing, once again reinforcing the dynamic between the former president and the man he has often referred to as “my Kevin.”

As the nickname implies, Trump has never treated the relationship as one between equals, and McCarthy, at least in public, has pretty much accepted that.

McCarthy wants to be speaker, a post he’s pursued for the better part of the decade. In 2015, he briefly thought he had the prize in his grasp after Rep. John Boehner of Ohio stepped down from the job. But opposition from the right wing of the Republican conference blocked him, and he stepped aside, leading to the election of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as speaker a few weeks later.

Since then, the desire to shore up his support on the right has shaped much of what McCarthy has done. During Trump’s presidency, he served as a loyal lieutenant. Unlike Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader who occasionally thwarted Trump and earned his enmity, McCarthy almost never departed from Trump’s path.

More recently, McCarthy’s catering to the right has included his unwillingness to rein in members like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado.

The one, brief, exception came immediately after Jan. 6.

McCarthy was “scared” by the attack on the Capitol, Rep. Lynn Cheney (R-Wyo.) made a point of noting during her remarks at the committee’s first hearing. As the attack took place, he tried to reach Trump to urge him to call off the mob. Unable to accomplish that, he called several members of the former president’s family, Cheney noted.


A week later, during debate on the House resolution impeaching Trump, McCarthy said that “the president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”

“He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”

While the impeachment resolution was pending, McCarthy told other members of the Republican leadership on a conference call that “I think it will pass and it would be my recommendation he should resign,” according to a recording of the call that became public earlier this spring. Through a spokesperson, McCarthy had attempted to deny the remark before the audio became public.

McCarthy’s moment of clarity lasted only briefly. Within a week, he started backing away from criticism of Trump.

“I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally,” McCarthy said during a news conference, referring to Trump’s speech to supporters hours before the attack.

Then he traveled to Mar-a-Lago to once again pledge loyalty to Trump.

Last spring, McCarthy authorized Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) to negotiate a deal with Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) for a bipartisan commission of outside experts to investigate the Capitol attack. The two reached an agreement, but after Trump objected, McCarthy disavowed it. House Democrats stuck with the deal and approved legislation to create a commission, but it died in the Senate.

Pelosi responded by creating the current House committee, with Thompson as its chair and Cheney — one of the few Republicans to consistently denounce Trump in public — as a prominent member. McCarthy then proposed five Republican members to join the committee, including two, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana, who had voted against certifying President Biden‘s election victory.

When Pelosi said she would accept the other three but not Jordan and Banks, McCarthy took his marbles and left, saying he would not let the Democrats control which Republicans sat on the panel.

At the time, most Republicans backed that decision, but in hindsight, many now say it backfired. The committee has been able to present its evidence against Trump smoothly, with no interference or distractions from dissenters.

Most important, the panel has been able to present the case largely with Republican witnesses, including the secretary of state from Georgia, the speaker of the Arizona legislature and former Trump administration Justice Department officials, and with much of the questioning led by Cheney and the other Republican member, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. That has blunted McCarthy’s desire to portray the investigation as a partisan, Democratic show.

Hence, Trump’s anger. He knows a good television presentation when he sees one, and the fact that it has proceeded without anyone interrupting to defend him galls the former president.

“The Republicans don’t have a voice. They don’t even have anything to say,” he said Tuesday in an interview with Punchbowl News.

“I think it would’ve been far better to have Republicans” on the committee, he said. “When Pelosi wrongfully didn’t allow them [Jordan and Banks], we should’ve picked other people. We have a lot of good people in the Republican Party.”

“I like Kevin very much — but in retrospect, it’s not fair,” he said. And, asked again if he would endorse McCarthy’s bid to be speaker, he demurred. “Well, I don’t want to comment on that now,” he said.

For McCarthy, the dustup may or may not turn into a serious problem — Trump himself may not know how far he wants to push the fight. But it’s another reminder, for the would-be speaker and every other member of the GOP, that with Trump, loyalty runs only one way.

The Supreme Court rules

— By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe vs. Wade, the ruling that established abortion rights nationwide, leaving the future of abortion up to each state. (We sent an Essential Politics special report earlier this morning on the ruling.) As David Savage writes, the widely expected decision marks “the most significant curtailing of an established constitutional right in the court’s history.” The ruling upheld a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, but it went far beyond that, saying that the Constitution places no limits on what abortion regulations a state may adopt. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. agreed with the court’s five most conservative justices on upholding Mississippi’s law but did not join them in overturning Roe.

— The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the rights of gun owners to carry a loaded weapon in public, ruling that the 2nd Amendment right to “bear arms” overrides laws in New York, California and five other states that require a gun owner to prove “good cause” for carrying a gun outside their homes. The ruling, as David Savage reported, is a major victory for gun-rights advocates and an indicator of how Trump’s three appointees to the high court have begun to shift the law.

— The court’s ruling could have a major impact in California, Jon Healey reported.

— And within hours of that ruling, California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said he would work with the governor and lawmakers to pass new gun control legislation “to keep Californians safe,” Taryn Luna and Hannah Wiley reported. Bonta noted that while a state requirement for gun owners to provide “good cause” to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon is likely unconstitutional, the decision said states continue to have the power to require gun owners to have a license and to impose requirements for one. “It leaves us with options to protect our families, and we intend to use those options,” Bonta said.

— The court also shielded police from being sued by suspects for failing to provide Miranda warnings. Ruling in a Los Angeles case called Vega vs. Tekoh, the justices by a 6-3 vote said that the only remedy for a Miranda violation is to block the use in court of a suspect’s incriminating comments, Savage reported. The impact will be most directly felt by people who are imprisoned after an investigation in which police did not warn them their statements could be used against them. They may get their conviction overturned on appeal, but they won’t have much recourse for the damage they suffered.

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The latest from Washington

— In their fifth day of hearings, the Jan. 6 committee members heard testimony that Trump pushed Department of Justice officials to falsely claim there was evidence of fraud in the 2020 election and attempted to replace the acting attorney general when he refused to comply, Sarah Wire reported. The committee focused on a handful of meetings in late December 2020 and early January 2021 in which Trump considered replacing acting Atty. Gen. Jeffrey A. Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, the head of the DOJ’s civil division. The day before the hearing, federal agents searched Clark’s Virginia home and seized electronic devices. Testimony also showed that several Republican members of Congress sought pardons from Trump.

— A recession seems increasingly likely later this year, but, as Don Lee reported, many economists believe it could be a fairly mild one. “We’re calling for a small ‘r’ recession,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital. “It means it’s not going to be protracted and things aren’t going to fall apart.”

— Biden heads to Europe this weekend for six days of economic and security meetings. As Eli Stokols and Tracy Wilkinson write, he does so at a time when U.S. alliances are stronger but he’s politically weaker.

— Biden on Wednesday asked Congress to suspend the federal gas tax through September. As Erin Logan reported, the move isn’t likely to happen — Republican leaders and some prominent Democrats poured cold water on it. The White House said a gas tax holiday could shave 18 cents per gallon off the price of gasoline, but many economists doubt that. Refiners would simply jack up their prices, given the current high demand and tight supply, they predict.

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The latest from California

— As Rep. Karen Bass prepares for her November runoff against Rick Caruso, some strategists believe that endorsements from high-level Democrats like Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris or former President Obama could be a significant help, offsetting the money advantage held by Caruso, a billionaire developer. But as Noah Bierman and Benjamin Oreskes wrote, those endorsements are by no means certain and also pose some risk.

— In the hours after polls closed in the closely watched California primary on June 7, reviews from pundits were quick to come in. Turnout: abysmal. Progressive reforms: rejected. Ex-Republican Caruso: the surprise star of the night in liberal Los Angeles. But as Jasper Goodman reported, nearly all of those quick takes have turned out to be wrong — a reminder that in the era of mail-in voting, with California’s laws designed to maximize participation, it’s not safe to analyze the vote until the vote is counted.

— Turnout in the Los Angeles mayoral primary, which sent Bass and Caruso to a November runoff, appears to have come in higher than in years past, Oreskes reported. With nearly all ballots counted, turnout reached about 30% of registered voters in the city of Los Angeles. That’s up from 20% in the 2017 primary, when Mayor Eric Garcetti won reelection with 81% of the vote. Bass currently leads Caruso by about 7 percentage points.

— Last year, after state and local governments spent more than $200 million on the recall election aimed at Gov. Gavin Newsom, there was all sorts of talk about reforming California’s recall process. But as Mark Barabak wrote, nothing much has happened. And that, he says, is a lost opportunity.

Paul Pelosi, the husband of Speaker Pelosi, was charged Thursday with misdemeanor driving under the influence causing injury, the Napa County district attorney’s office announced. As Christian Martinez wrote, the charge stems from a May 28 two-car collision on State Route 29 in Yountville. Pelosi, 82, was driving a 2021 Porsche and collided with a 2014 Jeep driven by a 48-year-old.

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