Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the Representatives, feared in the wake of the January 6 attack that several right-wing extremist members of Congress would incite violence against other lawmakers, identifying several by name as security risks in private conversations with party leaders.
Mr. McCarthy spoke with other congressional Republicans about wanting to rein in several hardliners who were deeply involved in Donald J. Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 election and undermine the peaceful transfer of power, according to an audio recording obtained by The New York Times.
But Mr. McCarthy did not follow the stricter steps that some Republicans urged him to take, and instead chose to seek political accommodation with the most extreme members of the GOP in order to advance his own career.
Mr. McCarthy’s remarks represent one of the sharpest acknowledgments by a Republican leader that the party’s lawmakers played a role in inciting violence on January 6, 2021 – and posed a threat in the days following the Capitol attack. Audio recordings of the comments were obtained in reporting for an upcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future.”
In the phone call with other Republican leaders on Jan. 10, Mr. McCarthy mainly to two representatives, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Mo Brooks of Alabama, to endanger the safety of other lawmakers and the Capitol complex. But he and his allies discussed several other representatives who made comments they saw as offensive or dangerous, including Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Barry Moore of Alabama.
The country was “too crazy,” said Mr. McCarthy, to allow members to speak and tweet ruthlessly at such a fleeting moment.
Mr. Brooks and Mr. Gaetz was the primary offender in the eyes of GOP leaders. Mr. Brooks spoke at the January 6 demonstration at the National Mall, which preceded the Capitol riots, using fire-amazing language. After Jan. 6, Mr. Gaetz went on television to attack several Republicans who had criticized Mr. Trump, including Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the management team.
These comments from Mr Gaetz alerted Mr McCarthy and his colleagues in the leadership – in particular the reference to Mrs Cheney, who was already the target of threats and public abuse from Mr Trump’s faction in the party due to her criticism of the defeated president. .
“He’s putting people in danger,” Mr. McCarthy about Mr. Gaetz. “And he does not have to do this. We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with ropes, with everything else.”
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican in the House, suggested that Mr. Gaetz may have crossed a legal boundary.
“It’s potentially illegal what he’s doing,” said Mr. Scalise.
On Tuesday night, Mr Gaetz responded with a blistering statement criticizing the two Republican leaders in the House as “weak men.”
“While I was protecting President Trump from trial, they were protecting Liz Cheney from criticism,” he said.
Mr. McCarthy, referring to Mr. Brooks, said the Trump loyalist had behaved even worse on Jan. 6 than Mr. Trump, who told the crowd gathered at the National Mall to “fight like hell” before his supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the vote count. Mr. Brooks told the demonstration that it was “the day American patriots start taking names down and kicking ass.”
“Do you think the president deserves to be sued for his comments?” asked Mr. McCarthy rhetorical. “It’s almost something that goes beyond what the president said.”
When he talked about ordinary legislators to his co-leaders, Mr. McCarthy sharply criticized and suggested that he would tell them to stop their inflammatory behavior.
“Our members also need to start paying attention to what they are saying, and you can not find out,” he said, adding an exclamation point.
Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Scalise did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Brooks on Tuesday rejected the Republican leader’s criticism, noting that a lawsuit filed against him by a Democratic congressman for his January 6 speech had been rejected in court.
“Kevin McCarthy spoke before he knew the facts,” said Mr. Brooks and added that he does not recall that Mr. McCarthy had ever spoken directly to him about his speech.
During the phone call on January 10, 2021, Mr. McCarthy spoke with a small group of Republican leaders, including Mr. Scalise, Mrs. Cheney, and Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, as well as a number of aides.
It was on this GOP leadership call that Mr. McCarthy told his colleagues he would call Mr. Trump and tell him, “it would be my recommendation that you step down.”
The House’s minority leader has in recent days lied about and tried to downplay his comments: Last week, after The Times reported the remarks, Mr McCarthy called the report “totally false and wrong.” After Mr. McCarthy’s denial, a source who had confidentially shared a recording of the call with the book’s authors, agreed to let The Times publish parts of the audio. In the days after that recording has been made public, the Republican leader has reiterated his denial, stressing that he never actually implemented his plan to urge Mr. Trump to stop.
Mr. McCarthy’s comments, in which he exposes other Republican lawmakers as a threat within Congress, illustrate the difference between how he talked about his own party just after January 6, in what he imagined to be strict trust, and the way he has interacted with these legislators for 15 months since then.
At the call on January 10, Mr. McCarthy that he planned to talk to Mr. Gaetz and ask him not to attack other legislators by name. The following day, at a major meeting of all Republican Republicans, Mr. McCarthy told lawmakers not to “incite” but rather to “respect each other”.
But in his will to become chairman of the House of Representatives after the 2022 election, Mr. McCarthy has spent much of the past year building a closer political partnership with the far right, showing little public concern that his most extreme colleagues could incite bloodshed with their overheated or hateful rhetoric.
In recent months, Mr McCarthy has opposed punishing Republican members of Congress who have been accused of inciting violence, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and most recently Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, who posted an animated video on social media , who depicted him. killed Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the left-wing Democrat.
Capitol Riot’s Aftermath: Key Developments
In the case of Mr. Gosar told Mr. McCarthy reporters that he talked to him about the video and noted that Mr. Gosar had issued a statement rejecting violence. But Mr. McCarthy opposed a decision to criticize Mr. Gosar and remove him from his committee duties.
Mr. McCarthy also ignored a remark from Mr. Brooks last year when the Republican from Alabama, after a man was arrested in connection with a bomb threat against the Capitol, said he understood the citizens’ “anger directed at dictatorial socialism and its threat to freedom, liberty and the very structure of American society” . “
But immediately after January 6, Mr. McCarthy a clear link between some lawmakers’ comments and the potential for future violence. On January 10, he urged his other GOP leaders to keep a watchful eye on members like Mr. Brooks and Mr. Gaetz and asked them to warn him if they saw any potentially dangerous public communication.
Mr. McCarthy said it was particularly unacceptable for lawmakers to attack other lawmakers with whom they disagreed on the outcome of the 2020 election: “This must stop.”
“The country is too crazy,” said Mr. McCarthy. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I do not want to play politics with any of it.”
On the leader call, Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Scalise and several other lawmakers who had made provocative comments around January 6, including Mr. Moore and Representative Louie Gohmert from Texas. Ms. Cheney, who was on the call, suggested that Ms. Boebert was a security risk, pointing out that she had publicly tweeted about the sensitive movements of other lawmakers during the January 6 evacuation.
Mr. McCarthy also asked about Ms. Greene, and whether she had spoken at the January 6 meeting.
Sir. Moore, like Mr. Brooks, an extreme right-wing Alabama conservative, tweeted over the weekend after Jan. 6 about the fatal shooting of a troublemaker, Ashli Babbitt, by a member of the Capitol Police force, noting that “it was a black police officer who fired the white female veteran, “adding,” You know it does not fit the narrative. “
Immediately after the comment was read out on the call, Mr. McCarthy a wish that the major social media companies would ban some members of the Republican conference, as they had done with Mr. Trump after the uprising.
“Can’t they also take away their Twitter accounts?” asked Mr. McCarthy.
Ms. Boebert, Mr. Gohmert and Ms. Greene did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Moore declined to comment directly on Mr. McCarthy’s remarks, however, in a statement, he predicted Republicans would be “more united than ever after taking Parliament back in November.”
Much like his handling of Mr. Trump lost Mr. McCarthy quickly expressed his willingness to confront the far right, including the lawmakers most directly involved in inciting the January 6 riot. His handling of Mr. Brooks was an example of that.
At the call on January 10, Mr. Scalise Mr. McCarthy that there was talk among some Republicans of punishing Mr. Brooks by depriving him of his committee duties. Mr. McCarthy did not directly respond to the idea, but asked which committee Mr. Brooks had room in.
A push to punish Mr. Brooks came from the Republican Steering Committee, an influential organizing panel that distributes committee seats to party members. A member of the committee, Representative Steve Womack, a retired Colonel from the Arkansas National Guard, was appalled by Mr. Brooks’ behavior and led to the charge of punishing him.
At the first session of the steering committee after January 6, Mr. Womack tape by Mr. Brooks’ speech to his colleagues, including Mr. McCarthy.
“I saw the jaws drop,” Mr Womack, a sober conservative, usually loyal to the party leadership, said in an interview with the book.
After Mr. Womack’s report asked Mr. McCarthy for postponing the treatment of Mr. Brooks for the next meeting of the steering committee. But when the body met again later in January, Mr. McCarthy already lost his appetite for receiving Mr. Brooks.
Mr. Womack left the steering committee in protest, warning Mr. McCarthy and his colleagues that Republicans would come to regret their refusal to act.
“I can not tell you how angry I was,” said Mr. Womack.
He sent a letter of resignation to Mr. McCarthy, but received no response.
Mr. McCarthy’s handling of the episode, said Mr. Womack, “demonstrated a lack of leadership.”