United States House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is coming off a rough week.
First, the California Republican was denounced in The New York Times like having talked about asking Donald Trump to resign after the January 6, 2021 insurrection that McCarthy initially laid squarely at the feet of the future former president (that was before he flew to Mar-a-Lago to kiss and make up) .
Then, after McCarthy flatly denied the report, journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns produced receipts: an audio recording of a call with other Republican leaders in which he did exactly what the story said.
“The only discussion I would have with him is that I think (the House impeachment vote) will pass, and I would recommend that he resign,” McCarthy said. She was speaking, of all people, to Liz Cheney, who was subsequently ousted from leadership for continuing to criticize Trump’s instigation of the attack and is now part of the select committee investigating it.
So why write about this obvious lie in a column about Louisiana politics?
Because it could have implications for the second House Republican, minority whip Steve Scalise of Jefferson.
Scalise was also featured in the Times story, a preview of the upcoming book “This Shall Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” as having toyed with distancing himself after the violent attack on Congress. In one call, reporters wrote, she said it was time to contemplate a “post-Trump Republican House.”
But unlike McCarthy, Scalise never went on public hiatus. And that puts him in a very different position as Republicans try to regain control of the House this fall.
Both men are potential House Speakers, but either would need to win the support of a Republican caucus that remains extraordinarily loyal to the ousted president, despite his false claims of widespread voter fraud.
That’s a problem for McCarthy, whom the conservative wing of the caucus has never really trusted. Despite his open, possibly desperate, attempt to get back into good hands with the big guy after Jan. 6, suspicions still linger, and his brief, recorded attack of conscience won’t endear him to the Trump faction. -or-bust.
Scalise entered the Trump era with closer ties to this crowd, having headed the conservative Republican Study Committee and spoken for years. And his public commitment to Trump has been unwavering, both during his presidency and in the ugly period since the 2020 election. It has given true believers no reason to doubt him.
If that sounds less like a leader than a follower, it also positions him as the next guy in case McCarthy falters.
Scalise is a messenger who stays diligent on the partisan message; he regularly attacks incumbent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden with fervor.
He occasionally works cross-party on issues of local importance, such as disaster relief and flood insurance, and has shown limits. When fringe figure Marjorie Taylor Greene ran for Congress in 2020, for example, she endorsed her Republican opponent, calling some of Greene’s comments “disgusting” and saying they “do not reflect the values of equality and decency that make great to our country.”
Yet she has said little since she joined Congress, about herself or others whose behavior remains unacceptable.
I understand. She ascends not by rising above the mud, but by reading the room. Scalise does this expertly.
But his actions are not without consequences.
By refusing to be the voice of public reason, and possibly forcing the hand of a nervous McCarthy, he now has a record of helping make extreme views the position of the party leadership and thus the mainstream. republican
It has happened in minor matters like a recent attempt to appoint a Florida court after a respected judge passed away, derailed by House Republicans at the urging of a Georgia congressman who denounced a unique, entirely ordinary ruling by church and state.
And it has happened in very important things, like safeguarding the sanctity of our democratic system. Scalise, the victim of a near-fatal assassination attempt in 2017, denounced the Jan. 6 violence but also fueled the ongoing frenzy by refusing to vote to certify Joe Biden’s victory in key swing states.
That won’t hurt with GOP lawmakers who will pick the speaker if the GOP regains a majority. In fact, he is likely to help.
How much it hurts the country is a completely separate question.