House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Sunday defended former President Donald Trump’s mild response to the Jan. 6 insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, noting that Trump eventually released a video that day asking the rioters to go home.
During an exchange on “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked McCarthy to confirm a GOP congresswoman’s account of a phone call between McCarthy and Trump that took place as rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington said McCarthy told her that he had asked Trump to call off the attack and the president responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
“Is she right? Is that what the president said to you?” Wallace asked.
McCarthy, refusing to answer the question directly, responded that he was “the first person” to contact Trump as the attack unfolded. He claimed the president was unaware of the riot until their call. (Trump was reportedly “delighted” as he watched news coverage of his supporters breaking into the Capitol.)
“When he ended the call, he was ... telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this," McCarthy said. “And that’s what he did. He put a video out later. ”
Wallace noted that Trump’s widely panned video was “pretty weak” and pressed McCarthy again to confirm Herrera Beutler’s account of the call.
“Listen, my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president,” McCarthy said. “I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time. The president said he would help.”
Rioters breached the Capitol around 2:15 p.m. on Jan. 6. About two hours later, the White House released a video of Trump telling the insurrectionists that he loves them and they are “very special,” but they need to “go home.”
Five people died during or shortly after the attack, including one police officer. Two other police officers who responded that day died by suicide in the days after the riot.
McCarthy initially condemned Trump’s response to the mob, which the president had encouraged with his repeated lies alleging a “stolen” and “rigged” election.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” McCarthy said during a Jan. 13 speech on the House floor. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.”
But McCarthy’s denunciations of Trump didn’t last long. Weeks after the Capitol riot, he visited Trump in Florida to discuss how Republicans could win back the House in 2022. The meeting was captured in a smiley photograph of the pair at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf club turned post-presidential home.
McCarthy and other GOP leaders did nothing to stop Trump from spreading baseless conspiracy theories about President Joe Biden’s victory. Many of Trump’s allies, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Josh Hawley of Missouri, helped promote those false claims.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she offered concessions to Republican lawmakers in an effort to reach an agreement on the creation of a special committee to investigate the Capitol attack. Among those concessions, Pelosi said the panel would be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
When asked Sunday if he will accept Pelosi’s concessions, McCarthy said he wanted the commission to also investigate “political violence across this country.” On Thursday, McCarthy suggested he wanted the scope of the committee’s probe to include Black Lives Matter protests.
Wallace pushed McCarthy to answer whether he would agree to a commission focused only on the Capitol riot. But McCarthy deflected, calling the terms of the committee “too important to negotiate in the press.”