ORLANDO — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it’s imperative for Republicans to stay united if they want to take back the majority. But cracks are widening in his own relationship with one of his top deputies over former President Donald Trump.
At a retreat meant to craft a cohesive message for the party, McCarthy (R-Calif.) and GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) illustrated the exact rift the GOP has fought to avoid. While the former president wasn’t even invited to the House GOP’s annual policy retreat here in the Sunshine State, his presence has loomed large over the three-day gathering.
McCarthy, when asked whether it’s difficult to have harmony in his ranks when Cheney has been so vocal with her viewpoints on Trump, offered up some thinly veiled criticism.
“There’s a responsibility, if you’re gonna be in leadership, leaders eat last,” McCarthy told POLITICO in a wide-ranging interview on Monday. “And when leaders try to go out, and not work as one team, it creates difficulties.”
The California Republican also said he’s privately approached Cheney about toning down some of her remarks. When asked whether Cheney has heeded the advice, McCarthy responded: “You be the judge.”
Hours earlier at a press conference, Cheney — who was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump — publicly broke with McCarthy over the scope of a commission investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
McCarthy wants a broader scope that explores all kinds of political violence, including the protests that erupted last summer in response to police brutality. But Cheney has called for a different approach, arguing the commission needs to be tightly focused on Jan. 6.
“If we minimize what happened on Jan. 6th and if we appease it, then we will be in a situation where every election cycle, you could potentially have another constitutional crisis,” Cheney said later in an interview with POLITICO. “If you get into a situation where we don’t guarantee a peaceful transfer of power, we won’t have learned the lessons of Jan. 6.”
“And you can’t bury our head in the sand,” she added. “It matters hugely to the survival of the country.”
The growing gulf between Cheney and McCarthy is emblematic of the broader split in the party right now over Trump. And while hardly new, the Cheney-McCarthy divide that was on full display Monday was especially more glaring since it came amid GOP calls for unity as they plotted their path back to power.
The pair has insisted they have a good working relationship and there’s no bad blood. McCarthy also went to bat for Cheney when some of Trump’s acolytes tried unsuccessfully to oust her from her leadership job, urging Republicans to keep the team in place. And McCarthy has pointed out the party is far more unified than it was after 2018, when the GOP lost the House.
But McCarthy has notably stopped appearing at GOP leadership’s weekly press conferences with Cheney ever since their awkward moment on Feb. 25, when they clashed over Trump’s role in the party. McCarthy also hasn’t committed to defending Cheney from her looming primary challenges, telling reporters in February: “Liz hasn’t asked me.”
While Trump wasn’t invited to the retreat this time around because it was more focused on policy, McCarthy isn’t ruling out inviting him to the next gathering. McCarthy also said he was trying to get Trump to film a video to play for the conference, but it didn’t pan out.
But some Republicans wish Trump had been a bigger focal point of the three-day retreat.
“Remember when Republicans lost the House in 2018 because a bunch of them distanced themselves from President Trump?” tweeted freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who hosted a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser on Saturday. “Not inviting President Trump to the GOP retreat is the same stupid behavior. Funny how they don’t understand a record # of votes and support of any R President.”