Looking back on things, January 6th seemed to have served as a brief moment of introspection for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. After two months of shamelessly contributing to the false, Trump-driven narrative that the November election had been rigged and stolen, he was suddenly sober, somewhat hardened, and willing to tell a few uncomfortable truths. (I suppose hundreds of violent insurrectionists storming your place of work, and threatening to kill your colleagues, can have that type of affect on a person).
After years of embarrassing servility to Donald Trump, McCarthy let loose. He bragged to an interviewer about how he’d stood up to the president on the phone during the attack, demanding he “Stop this!” and accept the results of the election. The interview took place shortly after McCarthy had sent a letter to fellow House Republicans, putting forth ideas for seeking accountability for the day and what led up to it. One of those ideas: “A Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Circumstances Surrounding the Attack.”
January 13th on the House floor, McCarthy publicly recognized Joe Biden’s legitimate election victory and officially recommended a “fact-finding commission” to investigate the U.S. Capitol assault.
“These facts deserve congressional action,” he declared while making his case. He also didn’t mince words about who he blamed for the event, at least in part. He said that Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” and called on the president to “accept his share of responsibility.”
McCarthy also called on conservatives to shoot down the developing, unsupported notion that Antifa was behind the riots. He praised the U.S. Capitol Police, saying members of congress owed them a “tremendous debt of gratitude,” and added, “Conservatives also know that the only thing that stops mob violence is to meet it with force, rooted in justice and backed by moral courage.”
Unfortunately, McCarthy’s “moral courage” lasted no longer than it took for the results of Republican polls on the insurrection to come in. The unexpected message they brought (as Republican members of congress were also hearing from their political base and donors) was loud, clear, and overwhelming: We don’t care what Trump did or didn’t do. We’re standing by him. You’d better too, if you want to remain in office.
By January 21st, McCarthy was quickly returning to the political cowardice that had defined him in recent years, shifting blame away from Trump, and arguing not only that the former president had done nothing wrong (a position he has clung to ever since), but ridiculously stating that “all Americans” shared responsibility for what happened. Before the month was over, McCarthy had flown to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump, grovel for forgiveness, and get back in the former president’s graces.
It was the ugly, humiliating price-tag attached to saving McCarthy’s political career, including his longtime dream of becoming Speaker of the House. At least, it was in his mind.
Since then, a renewedly Trump-loyal McCarthy has spearheaded successful efforts to remove Liz Cheney as House Republican Conference Chair (for saying what McCarthy himself had said about the election and attack months earlier), and keep a bipartisan commission (like the one he’d previously advocated for) from forming and looking into the events of January 6th.
For several weeks, McCarthy also resisted meeting with U.S. Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone, one of the men he’d praised and said was owed a “tremendous debt of gratitude” back in January. Fanone, who was seriously injured by insurrectionists on January 6th, had been trying unsuccessfully to talk to McCarthy about his experiences that day, and ask that the House Minority Leader publicly disavow Republicans who’d been downplaying the seriousness of the attack and spreading conspiracy theories about who was behind it.
In other words, there was a reason McCarthy was avoiding him.
After lots of media pressure, however, Fanone was finally granted his meeting. It ended with McCarthy saying he’d address Fanone’s concerns privately… but not publicly.
What a guy.
That brings us to this week, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formation of a select committee to investigate January 6th. McCarthy, of course, is not only opposing the committee, but went as far as threatening fellow House Republicans that they’d lose their other committee assignments of they accepted a position on it.
Keep in mind that this is the same Kevin McCarthy who’s done nothing to punish Paul Gosar (who keeps mingling with white supremacist groups) or Marjorie Taylor Greene (a promoter of Jewish space-laser conspiracies who likens mask-wearing to the Holocaust). The saving grace for those two House Republicans, of course, is that they’re both unabashed pro-Trumpers.
Liz Cheney, who’s not, and has repeatedly demonstrated real moral (and political) courage since January 6th, ignored McCarthy’s threat and proudly accepted Pelosi’s invitation. She tweeted this statement earlier in the week, explaining her support for the committee she later committed to:
I’ve said before that a bipartisan independent commission would’ve been the best way to investigate the Jan. 6th attack.
That effort was unfortunately blocked. A select committee is now the only remaining option. I will vote to support it. See my full stmt: pic.twitter.com/C073yKWRWH
— Rep. Liz Cheney (@RepLizCheney) June 30, 2021
On a side note, I honestly can’t think of a better comparison to the current state of the Republican Party than the below scene from the 1990 comedy film, Quick Change. Trump is the bank-robbing clown with explosives tied to his body, Liz Cheney is the defiant blonde, Kevin McCarthy is the bank manager, and the rest of the hostages are members of the GOP Congress who are desperately afraid of being primaried for upsetting the clown (warning: there’s some colorful language).
Basically Liz Cheney talking to Trump and the rest of the GOP Congress. pic.twitter.com/p3ihHmhlxh
— John A. Daly (@JohnDalyBooks) February 25, 2021
Anyway, what was McCarthy’s response to Cheney’s latest act of party defiance? “I was shocked that she would accept something from Speaker Pelosi…maybe she’s closer to her than us,” he said.
The implication, of course, was that despite Cheney’s strong conservative credentials, and a voting record that’s quite consistent with the GOP and even Donald Trump’s policies, she’s really more in line with the Democrats.
In one specific sense, I suppose McCarthy’s right. Like the Democrats, and unlike McCarthy (and the vast majority of Republican leaders), Liz Cheney isn’t living in fear of Donald Trump (a guy who lost everything for the GOP). She’s not willing to humiliate herself for the man just to keep her job. She’s not willing to put his ego before the country, and run interference for the damage he’s caused (and continues to cause) to our democracy. She’s concerned about future acts of violence being caused by enduring, widespread belief in the Big Lie.
In other words, she stands for the same things that McCarthy claimed to stand for… for a week or two in January.
While McCarthy continues to demonstrate that he’s a profile in cowardice, Cheney remains a profile in courage. And if that leaves her out-of-step with the rest of her party, Kevin McCarthy is exactly the “leader” the GOP deserves.