• Matthew Inui

Leaked Audio Spells Uncertainty for McCarthy’s Political Future


Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke at one of former President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rallies in 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)


On April 21, New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns published their book This Will Not Pass. In exploring the growing fissure between the two political parties, the book publicized new information of a leaked January 10 call between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other top House Republicans. In these audio tapes, McCarthy is heard blaming then-President Trump for inciting the January 6 Capitol riots and expressing his belief that Trump should resign. Since their release, these tapes have received mixed responses from Republicans, spelling possible trouble for McCarthy’s plans to become Speaker of the House should Republicans reclaim the majority in the 2022 midterms.


What was in the tapes?


The most significant revelation from these tapes was that McCarthy, at least privately, believed Trump bore some responsibility for the events of January 6. “I’ve had it with this guy,” McCarthy is heard saying in one of the tapes. “What he did was unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.” This is a drastic change in position from his public statements, in which he absolved Trump of all responsibility. He even traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort for a supposedly impromptu photo-op. Many saw this as an attempt by McCarthy to apologize for the criticisms in the tapes and regain Trump’s endorsement for his possible Speaker bid. Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of the only Republicans to vote to impeach Trump, said, “McCarthy was over Trump until he wasn’t, when he realized he needed him.”


The leaked tapes also give insight into McCarthy’s real feelings toward a Congressional inquiry into the events of January 6. After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rejected two out of five of McCarthy’s picks for the January 6 Select Committee because of “the impact their appointments may have on the integrity of the investigation,” McCarthy pulled the rest of his appointments from the committee as well as his support for the “sham process.” However, in one of the leaked audio clips, McCarthy is heard strongly supporting a Congressional inquiry into the events of January 6 and Trump’s possible involvement. “We cannot just sweep this under the rug,” said McCarthy. “We need to know why it happened, who did it and people need to be held accountable for it, and I'm committed to make sure that happens.”


Beside these comments, McCarthy made several other controversial statements in this call. In one clip, McCarthy accuses Rep. Matt Gaetz of “putting people in jeopardy” because of his inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the “stolen election.” McCarthy also called out Rep. Mo Brooks for telling the protesters that January 6 was the day to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” He even implies that he wished Twitter would suspend the accounts of some far-right Congressmen as it did with Trump.


What was the response?


When This Will Not Pass was published and knowledge of the leaked audio was first made public, McCarthy flatly denied making the statements in the transcripts. After the tapes themselves were released, however, he was forced to admit that he had made those comments.


Since then, Republicans have had mixed reactions toward the leak. On one hand, some such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Gaetz denounced McCarthy, calling him “weak” and a “puppet of the Democratic Party.” However, many Republicans have also expressed their continual support of McCarthy despite the content of the tapes. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a former member of the House GOP leadership, said that McCarthy “has wide support from the conference.” Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also expressed his support for McCarthy. “President Trump said yesterday that he fully supports Kevin McCarthy for speaker, as do I,” McCaul said. At a later House GOP leadership meeting, McCarthy even received a standing ovation from his caucus.


The Democratic response, on the other hand, has been unanimously critical of McCarthy’s mercuriality ― specifically his recent embrace of Trump despite evidence that McCarthy disapproved of Trump’s actions on January 6. As House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar said in response to the standing ovation at the GOP leadership meeting, Republicans “continue to support the big lie, lie about everything else, lie when they’re caught, and then give standing ovations.” Others have latched onto the fact that McCarthy initially lied about the statements, declining ever making them, and continually lied about his true feelings about January 6. Harvard professor Steven Levitsky said in an NPR interview, “If citizens cannot trust that their elected officials are telling the truth, that will undoubtedly undermine the public’s confidence in the democratic process.”


Ultimately, it’s impossible to tell for certain whether the fallout from the audio leaks will ruin McCarthy’s hopes of becoming Speaker, or whether Republicans will even claim a majority in the 2022 midterms. What is for certain is that the political effects of the events of January 6 are still felt today, and new revelations, whether from leaks like the McCarthy audio clips or investigations by the January 6 Select Committee, are certain to shape politics far into the future.