After spending months rushing to protect committee assignments and writing tortured statements in defense of members of his caucus for a slew of blunders, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week threatened to strip GOP members of committee assignments if they defied their party’s all-out effort to halt further investigation into the Capitol attack.
McCarthy reportedly issued the threat to anyone who dared to accept an offer from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The last time he committed to dropping the hammer on one of his own was when he rallied to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from House leadership because she refused to support Trump’s big election lie.
But his sudden commitment to punishment marks a swift reversal for McCarthy, who has refused for months to hold GOP members responsible for anything. Here’s a selection of the many indiscretions that get a pass.
Federal Sex-Trafficking Investigation? No Biggie
In April, despite a seemingly daily string of new revelations about a federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) for sex-trafficking a minor, McCarthy pressed ahead with his position that Gaetz should keep seats on both the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.
“I’ve spoken to Mr. Gaetz about the accusations. He’s told me he’s innocent of the accusations,” McCarthy told reporters at a news conference at the time. “I explained to Mr. Gaetz the rules inside our conference. If there was something to come forward, we would take action.”
McCarthy has kept up that defense even as Gaetz faced a probe from the House Ethics Committee for a litany of potential violations.
Endorsing Violence Against Dems
Earlier this year, the House voted to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from her committee assignments over past comments and social media posts in which she seemed to endorse violence against Democratic lawmakers and suggested that some school shootings were “false-flag” operations—but it had little to do with McCarthy. It was Dems who voted to remove her.
Instead McCarthy issued a statement standing by her, and suggesting she shouldn’t be removed from her committees for past comments.
‘Appalling’ Holocaust Denial
Months later, McCarthy was presented another chance to reprimand Greene when she compared coronavirus mask mandates to the Holocaust. Again, he simply acknowledged that she was “wrong.”
“Her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter, before somehow twisting it into a rebuke of Democrats. “At a time when the Jewish people face increased violence and threats, anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Democrat Party and is completely ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
The tepid words did not compel an apology from Greene, who only backed down from the comments weeks later when Rep. Bradley Schneider (D-IL), who is Jewish, said he would introduce a bill censuring her.
Calling the Capitol Attack a ‘Normal Tourist Visit’
During a recent congressional hearing about security failures that contributed to the riot, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) downplayed the Jan. 6 assault, comparing the riot at the complex to a “normal tourist visit.”
At least two Republican House members, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, were horrified by colleagues’ attempts to recast the riot in a rosier light, but the House GOP leader was not among them.
“I don’t know what he said,” McCarthy told CNN. “I don’t know, I didn’t see it.”
Gosar’s White Supremacist Ties
McCarthy has repeatedly ceded the chance to reprimand Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who this week denied plans to attend a fundraiser with a group that promotes white nationalist ideas, despite an invitation spreading online that features the congressman with far-right operative Nick Fuentes.
It’s not the first time Gosar has appeared to boost white supremacy. In February, he took the stage at a white supremacist event after Fuentes declared that “white people are done being bullied,” and said that the Capitol riot was “awesome.”
Gohmert’s QAnon Conference Cameo
McCarthy looked the other way when Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) took part in a QAnon-themed Dallas conference that featured former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, who boosted the suggestion by an audience member about waging a Myanmar-style military coup in the United States.
Gohmert suggested in remarks at the event that “it wasn’t just right-wing extremists” rioting in the Capitol, while downplaying the impact of the insurrection.
Gohmert later posed for a photo with a QAnon-promoting podcaster who claimed involvement in the Jan. 6 riot, according to Media Matters for America.
McCarthy did nothing. He appeared similarly resigned when the Texas Republican delivered a floor speech last month boosting a false conspiracy theory pushed by Fox News host Tucker Carlson that FBI agents had infiltrated the pro-Trump mob that descended on the Capitol and had, in fact, caused the attack.
After a platform document for a new GOP caucus tied to Greene and Gosar surfaced, calling for “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” McCarthy issued an indirect statement that denounced “nativist dog whistles” but made no mention of the nascent group.
“America is built on the idea that we are all created equal and success is earned through honest, hard work. It isn’t built on identity, race, or religion,” he wrote on Twitter. He stopped short of condemning its authors who appeared to steadily retreat from the idea amid widespread criticism.
Although Greene later suggested it was a “fake story” peddled by the media, her spokesman Nick Dyer had actually confirmed the impending launch, telling people to “be on the look out for a public release for the America First Caucus platform when it’s released publicly very soon.”
Fomenting an Insurrection
McCarthy also seems totally disinterested in allegations that GOP members were involved in organizing the rally that preceded the Capitol attack.
Ali Alexander, who organized the “Stop the Steal” rally, claimed in a video that he got a hand from pro-Trump Reps. Gosar, Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Mo Brooks (R-AL).
But McCarthy simply dodged questions about whether he’s sure members of his caucus had not communicated with Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol.
A spokesman for Biggs disputed the claim, stating Biggs wasn’t “aware of hearing of or meeting Mr. Alexander at any point” and had no “contact with protestors or rioters.”
Roughing Up a Colleague
McCarthy also appeared to keep quiet last month after two Washington Post reporters said they witnessed Greene aggressively confronting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and accusing her of supporting “terrorists.”
After the incident, Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for the New York congresswoman, urged leadership to “take real steps to make Congress a safe, civil place for all Members and staff—especially as many offices are discussing reopening. One Member has already been forced to relocate her office due to Congresswoman Greene’s attacks.”
While sidestepping Greene's aggressiveness, McCarthy made an unrelated announcement this week: that he had asked Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, to probe claims that the National Security Agency was spying on Tucker Carlson.