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Where Was Kevin McCarthy?

The GOP leader was MIA from critical discussion as the Capitol was under siege and VP Pence was giving “unambiguous orders.”
July 22, 2022
Where Was Kevin McCarthy?
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / C-SPAN)

Around 4 p.m. on January 6, 2021, staffers inside the White House were “emotionally drained,” according to new testimony revealed by the House Jan. 6th Committee. The staffers felt their work was done, since then-President Donald Trump had finally put out a statement about the events of the day: a video message expressing love for the rioters, perpetuating the idea the election was stolen from him, and asking them to go home.

But even though the White House was ready to call it quits, the Capitol was still under attack. Then-Vice President Mike Pence was on the phone with Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, demanding he “Get the military down here, get the guard down here, put down this situation.” And congressional leaders from both parties huddled to coordinate a plan to finish certifying the election for Joe Biden.

Someone was notably missing from the photos and video of those conversations among congressional leaders working to resume business: then-House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy.

See the images released by the committee:

Where was Kevin? He’s not telling.

McCarthy’s apparent absence raises even more questions about his actions and relationship with Trump.

Thousands of witnesses have voluntarily complied with the committee’s requests for testimony; McCarthy is one of the few who have resisted. The committee asked him for a voluntary interview in January 2022, and after he declined, the committee issued a subpoena seeking his testimony. In response, McCarthy’s lawyer sent the committee an 11-page letter on Friday, questioning the committee’s legality and constitutionality and making other specious arguments previously rejected by the courts.

To date, McCarthy has still refused to cooperate with the committee.

It is well known that McCarthy had direct conversations with Trump while the attack was underway and that the GOP leader asked for Trump’s help in protecting the Capitol—help that Trump did not deliver.

McCarthy said in live televised interviews on CBS and Fox that he spoke directly with Trump and urged him to help “calm individuals down.”

But McCarthy was unable to convince Trump.

Trump White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner told the committee that McCarthy had also sought his assistance in getting the president to quell the riot. Kushner testified that McCarthy, “told me it was getting really ugly over at the Capitol, and said, ‘please, anything you can do to help, I would appreciate it.’ . . . I got the sense they were scared. . . . He was scared.”

Additionally, the committee quoted public comments from 2021 by Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler recounting the substance of McCarthy’s conversation with Trump, as McCarthy relayed it to her at the time. As Herrera Beutler recalled, Trump told McCarthy: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

But McCarthy refuses to talk to the committee under oath about those conversations. Why?

McCarthy’s support for Trump wavered briefly in the waning days of Trump’s presidency—McCarthy told his fellow Republican leaders that “I’ve had it with this guy” and said he would call on Trump to resign and, on January 13, McCarthy said, in a speech opposing impeachment, that Trump “bears responsibility” for the insurrection.

But look more fully at McCarthy’s record. In December 2020, he was one of the 126 House Republicans who supported Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s bogus lawsuit to cancel votes in swing states Biden won. Just hours after the insurrection, McCarthy supported objections to Biden’s wins in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

And by the end of January 2021, he was championing Trump again, outright. He took a trip to Mar-a-Lago on January 28 to talk with Trump about winning the House majority in 2022. “President Trump’s popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time,” he said in a statement after the meeting.

And in the months that followed, McCarthy led the GOP caucus in opposing the Jan. 6th Committee and relished attacking the two Republicans who serve on it, calling Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger “Pelosi Republicans.” McCarthy greenlit Cheney’s removal from the House GOP leadership, then endorsed her primary opponent. (Kinzinger’s district was eliminated by Democrats, and he is not running for office this cycle.)

Among the new details to emerge in Thursday’s hearing, perhaps the most striking involved Mike Pence. As the attack was underway, the vice president started to take command. He started to give what Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called “very direct, unambiguous orders” for security measures to be taken to secure the Capitol:

As the target of Trump’s mob, Pence was under extreme duress. According to the testimony of an anonymous security official, members of the VP’s security detail at one point believed the situation was so dire that they called their loved ones to say goodbye:

According to Milley, Pence’s demands for increased security did not make the White House happy.

Milley testified that Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told him, “We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative that the president is still in charge”:

Was that part of McCarthy’s decision not to participate in those talks? Was it possible McCarthy agreed with the Meadows point of view—that it would reflect poorly on Trump if other Republicans took decisive action to put down the riot? What did Trump tell McCarthy? And why won’t McCarthy tell the committee directly?

And what about Pence? How could the former vice president also stay silent about what he witnessed, given that his own security detail thought they might perish that day?

Both men know a lot about these events they have refused to share. The American people deserve to hear them testify.

Correction (June 23, 2022, 9:00 p.m. EDT): As originally published, this article suggested that Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler testified before the Jan. 6th Committee. That passage has been changed to make clear that the committee’s quotations from Herrera Beutler were drawn from her public comments.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.