Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007, representing California’s 23rd Congressional District. In 2022, he ran for reelection—in the 20th district after redistricting—with Trump’s endorsement and not only won readily, but went on to finally become speaker of the House in 2023, albeit after endless negotiations and 15 votes.
Fellow Republicans chose McCarthy as House majority leader in 2014, a position he held until the results of the 2018 midterms forced a shift to House minority leader in 2019. Earlier in his congressional career, McCarthy served as House Republican chief deputy whip from 2009–11 and House majority whip from 2011–14. Prior to running for Congress, he was a member of the California State Assembly from 2002–06.
McCarthy had reportedly been under consideration for the speaker’s position in 2015 and 2018, but several media outlets—including Vox and New York Magazine—reported that an affair with former congresswoman Renee Ellmers dimmed his prospects for rising to the top position in the House.
After the 2020 presidential election, McCarthy played a pivotal role in helping to perpetuate the Big Lie. As the top House Republican, he broke with more moderate congressional leaders in refusing to acknowledge Biden’s victory and encouraging far-right members of Congress to object to certifying the Electoral College results during the joint session on Jan. 6, 2021. When the MAGA mob attacked the Capitol that day ready to “hang” the vice president for refusing to do Trump’s bidding, McCarthy initially condemned the violence—but then quickly backpedaled. Once the former president left Washington a few weeks later, the minority leader traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida to reaffirm his loyalty and beg for his forgiveness.
McCarthy has remained a staunch supporter of the ex-president ever since and in August 2022, just days after the FBI was forced to seize sensitive governmental documents from the Mar-a-Lago compound, he threatened to retaliate against Attorney General Merrick Garland “when Republicans take back the House” in the midterm elections.
January 6, 2021
- Once the riot began on Jan. 6, McCarthy called and pleaded with Trump to get his supporters to back down. Although the conversation was reportedly full of expletives, the minority leader has refused to reveal the exact exchange between the two.
- Days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, McCarthy delivered a speech on the House floor in which he said “the president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
- Within weeks, however, McCarthy backtracked and focused instead on lack of preparedness on the part of the Capitol Police. He also proclaimed this about Trump’s culpability: “I don’t believe he provoked it, if you listen to what he said at the rally.”
- McCarthy voted against impeaching Trump for his role in inciting the mob that disrupted congressional certification of the presidential election.
- He also voted against establishing a House committee to investigate the genesis of the violent assault on the Capitol and disruption of the congressional procedure underway that day.
- On Jan 13, 2022, McCarthy announced that he would not cooperate with the House Select Committee, stating, “This committee is not conducting a legitimate investigation as Speaker Pelosi took the unprecedented action of rejecting the Republican members I named to serve on the committee. It is not serving any legislative purpose.”
- He also misleadingly stated that Pelosi took the unprecedented step of denying Republicans in the minority any appointments to the committee, when, in fact, the speaker of the House actually accepted three out of five submissions from Republicans.
- Like so many of his GOP colleagues in Congress who have shown total loyalty to Trump, McCarthy has benefited financially since the attack on the Capitol and his response to it, garnering the largest amount of corporate donations in support of his reelection.
- In February 2023, McCarthy used his newfound power as speaker of the House to deliver 41,000 hours of Capitol security video from the day of the insurrection to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He, in turn, radically edited the footage in order to begin airing segments on his show in early March that depict rioters as mere “sightseers” interested in visiting the building with peaceful intentions. Trump hailed Carlson’s cynical twist on the events of Jan. 6 as “irrefutable” evidence that rioters have been wrongly accused of violence that day.
The Big Lie
- In December 2020, McCarthy signed an amicus brief in Texas v. Pennsylvania asking the Supreme Court to consider overturning the election results.
- A day after the insurrection, McCarthy issued a statement explaining his rejection of the 2020 Electoral College count. “I agreed with objections that were made to two states,” he wrote, “especially because constitutional questions have been raised about changes to election processes and whether these changes were approved by their respective legislatures, as required in Article II.”
- In May 2021, McCarthy ignored ongoing claims of voter fraud from Republicans, stating “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today. So from that point of view, I don’t think that’s a problem.”
- McCarthy has warned against automatic voter registration, claiming it led to “multiple cases of fraud” in California. However, no charges of fraud were ever filed after the state found a few erroneous registrations that did not reflect ill intent.
- In August 2021, McCarthy claimed that Democrats were trying to “ban ID voting,” a statement that CNN deemed incorrect. In lieu of a common ID such as a driver’s license, Democratic bills proposed requiring states to accept signed statements under penalty of perjury attesting to a voter’s identity and eligibility to vote.
- In September 2021, McCarthy avoided stating whether or not the 2020 election was illegitimate, but criticized Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) for voting to impeach Trump and for co-chairing the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, saying, ““Liz Cheney has a difficult campaign based upon what she has been voting on.”
- In August 2022, as he was campaigning for Cheney’s challenger in the Wyoming primary, McCarthy happily predicted her defeat and said it would be “a referendum on the Jan. 6 committee.”
- On Jan. 2, 2021, McCarthy appeared to support an audit. “If you want to unite this nation, you start with having integrity in your election,” he said. “There are questions out there. … What’s wrong with bringing the information back so people have all the information to make those decisions?”
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