WASHINGTON — In a private meeting on Wednesday, top loyalists to Donald Trump tangled with House Republican leaders Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise over leaked post-Jan. 6 audio of the two criticizing far-right lawmakers for inciting violence against other lawmakers.
Despite the explosive new audio, McCarthy remains in the good graces of most House Republicans, and for now does not appear to have imperiled his bid to become the next House speaker, assuming Republicans take control of the chamber.
The House Republicans left the closed-door meeting and said McCarthy needed to move forward and lead on issues Americans care about, including border security and inflation.
The audio, which included McCarthy in a closed-door meeting saying he would recommend former President Donald Trump resign instead of being removed from office by Congress, was particularly bad for the Republican leader, whose party is increasingly confident that he will take over the House in November and who has been positioning himself to be Speaker when that happens.
I am here to say that he is going to be the next speaker, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, told NBC News as he left the Capitol Hill Club. He said the right things for me, now I'm just a guy. He answered it and he answered it good enough for me. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said McCarthy's message was: "We need to keep on track and keep pushing." This is a distraction, folks. This is a distraction by the left trying to drive a wedge in a very unified Republican Party and a very unified conference. Things got heated as the meeting ended up. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., questioned McCarthy and Scalise over the Jan. 10, 2021 audio that was obtained by The New York Times, in which the leaders could be heard on a conference call talking about Gaetz, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. and other conservatives who they thought posed threats to their colleagues.
McCarthy said of Gaetz, who frequently appeared on TV and criticized Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. After the riot, he slaps people in jeopardy. We saw what people would do in the Capitol, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else. Scalise said of Gaetz: It is potentially illegal what he is doing. According to two sources in the room, Gaetz asked Scalise to state which of his comments he considered illegal. Scalise didn't give specifics. He replied that there was a lot of information flying around during that confusing period and that he was reacting to a Cheney aide who had claimed that Gaetz had threatened her safety.
One source in the meeting pointed out Scalise's experience of being shot in 2017 while practicing for a baseball game, saying that he s sensitive to that and takes it seriously, given his own experiences with threats. One GOP lawmaker who witnessed the heated exchange said Scalise wouldn't let Gaetz run away with his comments.
McCarthy urged unity and said Republicans should be attacking Democrats after being attacked by Gaetz.
Another Trump loyalist, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga, chimed in, pressing both McCarthy and Scalise to apologize for talking about the conservative lawmakers on the private leadership call, sources said. Neither apologized.
After leaving the meeting, Gaetz repeatedly refused to comment, directing reporters to his tweet a day earlier criticizing the leaders.
Scott Wong, Haley Talbot and Ali Vitali reported from Washington.