Kevin McCarthy’s arduous effort to become House Speaker may eventually be decided on the second anniversary of possibly his most agonizing day in politics.
As a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the then-House minority leader and President Trump exchanged a furious phone call.
“You’ve got to call these folks off,” Mr McCarthy demanded of Mr Trump, according to Washington Congresswoman Jamie Herrera-Beutler, whom Mr McCarthy informed about the call. “They’re your kind of people.”
“Well, Kevin, I think they’re simply more outraged about election fraud than you are,” Trump responded.
According to the representative, an exchange of expletives ensued.
Mr McCarthy is back in the same halls of Congress that were ransacked by the mob two years later, striving – unsuccessfully for three full days – to gain the Speakership of the House of Representatives.
His circuitous path to that point is part of what has put him in such a dangerous situation today.
What do McCarthy’s detractors want?
There are three possible outcomes to the impasse.
A week after the Capitol attack, Mr McCarthy took to the House floor to declare Mr Trump “bears responsibility” for the violence and should have condemned it immediately. He stated the attempt to delay the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory was “undemocratic, un-American and criminal”. While he did not support Mr. Trump’s impeachment, he did support the president’s official rebuke.
Meanwhile, he was telling Republican allies that he would persuade the president to quit before the end of his term later that month.
“I’ve had it with this guy,” he’d be overheard telling a group in a private phone call.
In barely two weeks, Mr McCarthy was on his way to Palm Beach, Florida, to meet with “this person” in a display of solidarity that seemed to contradict his previous public and private statements.
“President Trump has promised to work with Leader McCarthy on assisting the Republican Party in achieving a majority in the House,” read a statement from the former president, which was accompanied by a photo of the two standing side by side in one of the oceanside club’s magnificent chambers.
Kevin McCarthy on Donald Trump and the Capitol riot, then and now
Mr McCarthy had alienated Mr Trump’s fans by criticizing their man in less than a month, undermining efforts by Mr Trump’s Republican opponents, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to distance the party from the former president.
This week, while Mr McCarthy was fighting to win over the handful of Republican holdouts who were impeding his climb to the speakership, Mr Trump renewed his support for the man he once dubbed “my Kevin”. However, it was insufficient.
Despite the fact that many of the 20 Republicans who were blocking Mr McCarthy were staunch Trump fans, including several who voted to prevent Mr Biden’s victory from being certified in the hours following the Capitol attack, Mr Trump’s backing had little impact.
“I disagree with Donald Trump,” one of the holdouts, Congressman Ralph Norman, told the BBC. “He’s supporting Kevin McCarthy, who claimed he was going to censor the president – and the president should not have been silenced.”
In 2020, Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy will be on the campaign road.
Caption for an image,
In 2020, they will campaign jointly.
One of the complaints leveled at Mr McCarthy, which led Republicans to block his elevation to the speakership in 2015 after John Boehner’s forced retirement, is that he has been insufficiently devoted to the conservative cause and has been too likely to yield to pressure. If that’s the case, Mr McCarthy’s efforts to appease his critics, to make a variety of concessions in order to win them over, may just be another strike against him.
“Perhaps the ideal person for the post of House Speaker isn’t someone who has sold shares of himself for more than a decade to get it,” Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, another Republican holdout, said on Tuesday.
Mr McCarthy’s actions on January 6, two years ago, and in the days and months since, have further strengthened that perspective, according to some.