Kevin McCarthy denied saying he would urge Trump to resign, but audio shows he did

A man speaking at a lectern with flags behind him
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has been positioning himself to try to take over as speaker if Republicans retake the House.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow GOP lawmakers shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection that he would urge then-President Trump to resign, according to audio posted Thursday night by the New York Times and aired on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show.

The audio was posted after McCarthy denied making the comments and called the reporting on them “totally false and wrong.”

In the recording of what was identified as a Jan. 10 House Republican leadership call, McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) is heard discussing the Democratic effort to remove Trump from office and saying he would tell Trump, “I think it will pass and it would be my recommendation he should resign.”


It’s unclear whether McCarthy, who is in line to become House speaker if Republicans gain control of the chamber during the fall midterm elections, followed through on his thinking or was merely spitballing ideas shared privately with his colleagues after the deadly Capitol assault.

In the same conversation, McCarthy told his colleagues he doubted Trump would take the advice to step aside.

“That would be my recommendation,” McCarthy is heard saying in response to question from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who would emerge as a staunch Trump critic. “I don’t think he will take it, but I don’t know.”

Earlier Thursday, after the newspaper published its initial story describing the conversation, McCarthy released a statement accusing the reporters of not being “interested in truth.” His spokesman, Mark Bednar, had told the paper, “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign.”

New revelations about Jan. 6, 2021, show GOP leaders in Congress — Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell — saying one thing about Trump and doing another.

Bednar did not immediately respond to questions late Thursday night after the audio’s release. Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the tape.

The audio threatens to badly damage the relationship between McCarthy and Trump, who remains the most popular figure in the Republican Party despite his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection and his refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election. And it could threaten McCarthy’s standing with House Republicans aligned with Trump, whose support he will need for votes to become speaker next year.


The audio depicts a very different McCarthy than the one who has been leading House Republicans over the last year and a half and who has remained allied with Trump even after delivering a speech on the House floor shortly after Jan. 6 during which he called the attack on the Capitol “un-American.” At the time, McCarthy called the assault among the saddest days of his career and told his fellow Republicans that Trump “bears responsibility” for the violence.

Even after the riot, however, McCarthy joined half of House Republicans in voting to challenge President Biden’s election victory.

Since then, the California Republican has distanced himself from any criticism of Trump and has avoided directly linking him to what happened. Within weeks of the siege at the Capitol, McCarthy said he did not think Trump provoked the attack, as other prominent Republicans said at the time.

Instead, McCarthy has cozied up to Trump, visiting him at the former president’s Florida residence at Mar-a-Lago as he relies on the former president’s brand for campaign support this fall.

McCarthy indicated during an interview with the Associated Press this week in California that Trump would motivate voters to turn out for the party in this fall’s midterm elections.

“He’ll motivate, get a lot of people out,” McCarthy said at a GOP event in Fresno.

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The New York Times report Thursday was adapted from an upcoming book, “ This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” by Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns.


In the audio, Cheney, who eventually was removed from her No. 3 leadership position after voting in favor of Trump’s impeachment, can be heard asking McCarthy about a 25th Amendment resolution calling for Trump’s ouster and whether Trump might resign.

“I’ve had a few discussions. My gut tells me no. I’m seriously thinking of having that conversation with him tonight,” McCarthy is heard saying. “What I think I’m going to do is I’m going to call him.”

“I think it will pass,” he later adds, speaking of a House measure to impeach Trump, “and it would be my recommendation he should resign. I mean, that would be my take but I don’t think he would take it. But I don’t know.”

McCarthy, 57, has been charting his own delicate course in his bid to become speaker. He has begun to build out his leadership team and last summer directed several groups of Republican lawmakers to draft proposals to advance the party’s core legislative priorities in hopes of making a fast start in 2023.

But even as he inches closer to leading the chamber, McCarthy is well aware of the downside of power in recent months as hard-right members of the conference have created headaches with inflammatory actions and statements.

There was little immediate reaction Thursday night from fellow Republicans who could determine his future.


To be sure, no other Republican leader in the House has amassed the standing to challenge McCarthy for the leadership position.

The Senate acquitted former President Trump last year of inciting the Capitol insurrection.

McCarthy has recruited the class of newcomers bolstering GOP ranks and raised millions to finance Republican campaigns. He has drawn his closest rivals into the fold even as he works to shore up the votes he would need to become speaker.

An outside group aligned with McCarthy has led fundraising ahead of the midterm elections, and rank-and-file Republicans working to regain the House majority are unlikely to be critical of the leader ahead of November.

Still, McCarthy has also been a person of interest for the House committee investigating the storming of the Capitol on Jan 6. The select committee, on which Cheney serves as vice chair, requested an interview with McCarthy in mid-January, hoping to learn more about his conversations with Trump “before, during and after” the riot.

They had also sought information about McCarthy’s communications with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the days before the attack. Hours after the request was made, McCarthy issued a statement saying he would refuse to cooperate because he saw the investigation as not legitimate and accused the panel of “abuse of power.”

The committee has been especially focused on McCarthy’s communications with Trump and White House staff in the week after the violence, including a conversation with Trump that was reportedly heated.


Without his cooperation, it remains unclear whether the panel will be able to gain testimony from McCarthy or any other congressional allies of Trump. While the committee has considered subpoenaing fellow lawmakers, they have so far declined to take the extraordinary step, which could face legal and political challenges.