GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy told House Republicans Monday that President Donald Trump bears some blame for last week’s deadly Capitol riots and has accepted some responsibility, according to four Republican sources on a private call.
McCarthy’s remarks came during a House GOP-wide conference call — their first meeting since a mob of pro-Trump rioters assaulted the Capitol building and left five people dead in an attempt to halt the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. McCarthy also told members that he urged Trump to call up Biden and congratulate him for his win, sources said.
The California Republican’s description of his conversation with Trump runs counter to the public stance held by the president, who hasn’t accepted any blame for encouraging his supporters to go to the Capitol and pressure lawmakers into overturning his 2020 loss.
The GOP meeting, which lasted over two hours, offered Republicans an opportunity to air their safety concerns, ask questions about the attack, and discuss ways other than impeachment to hold Trump accountable for his role in inciting the violent mob. Democrats are aiming to bring impeachment articles to the floor this week and are expecting to get some bipartisan support.
McCarthy — who is one of Trump’s closest allies and is opposed to impeachment — acknowledged that they have some serious work to do in uniting the GOP conference, which is now bitterly divided.
“Now is a far greater and more urgent task,” McCarthy told members on the call, according to one source familiar with the remarks.
To the outrage of many Republicans, it took Trump nearly 24 hours to release a video condemning the violence and lawlessness that overtook Capitol Hill. Trump acknowledged emotions were running “high” and said he was turning his focus to “ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.” But the president avoided taking any personal blame for urging his followers to go to the Capitol on Wednesday to protest the election being taken from them.
“To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country,” Trump said. “And to those who broke the law, you will pay.”
To address members’ lingering safety concerns about returning to the Capitol, McCarthy gave Republicans his blessing to use the Democrats’ proxy voting system that allows members to cast votes without being physically present. The GOP is challenging the proxy system in court, so McCarthy encouraged any Republicans who wish to use the voting mechanism to remove themselves from the lawsuit if they are a co-sponsor.
Before the conference call, McCarthy — who has been hearing out members in one-on-one conversations in the days since the riots — sent a letter to his Republican colleagues saying he is opposed to impeachment, though he didn’t mention Trump by name.
Instead, McCarthy outlined a number of other options that some members have expressed interest in pursuing, including censuring Trump and forming a commission to investigate the Capitol attack. Some of those options were discussed on the conference call, with Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, speaking out in support of a censure resolution.
But even with those choices up for debate, there are still as many as 10 House Republicans who are seriously considering backing impeachment, including GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming and frequent Trump critic Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
During the call, Cheney did not tip her hand on her impeachment stance, but framed it as a “vote of conscience” and “not a political vote,” according to a source.
Kinzinger and freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), who is also open to supporting impeachment, both spoke up on the call as well. No Republicans, however, have made any announcements about their position.
The meeting came after multiple House Republicans privately expressed anger and frustration with McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) for failing to show leadership during the crisis and not publicly pushing back harder on Trump. Members were also incensed that the pair, along with over 120 of their GOP colleagues, carried on with the election challenges after the riots temporarily derailed floor action and forced members, staffers and reporters to hunker down in safe rooms.
With emotions still running high in the conference, there was at least one tense moment during Monday’s call. It started when freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) suggested the Capitol Police may have been involved in the riot.
Then, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) — another GOP member who is weighing impeachment — confronted Boebert for live tweeting the speaker’s whereabouts during the Capitol siege, saying she put all their lives at risk.
Another freshman, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), also chimed in, saying she is “disappointed” that the “QAnon conspiracy theorists” are not only leading the party, but also led the election objection effort after members had to walk by a crime scene to get to the House floor.
But Boebert defended herself on the call, saying that was not her intent and asking her colleagues not to accuse her of anything.