House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attracted attention last week when he said in a floor speech that former President Donald Trump “bears responsibility” for the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But since then, he has seemed to walk back his criticism.
On Thursday, he told reporters that he didn’t actually believe Trump had “provoked” the mob of his supporters.
In an interview airing Sunday on Gray Television’s “Full Court Press With Greta Van Susteren,” McCarthy insisted he wasn’t changing his tune.
“No, I have not changed in that,” he said. (Transcript below)
He stood by his assertion that Trump does bear some responsibility for what happened. But, he added, so does every other person around the country.
“I also think everybody across this country has some responsibility,” he said.
McCarthy then started pointing to Democrats who opposed Trump, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), people who are rude on social media and law enforcement authorities who didn’t prepare for the attack as some of the people who were somehow responsible.
“I think this is what we have to get to the bottom of, and when you start talking about who has responsibilities, I think there’s going to be a lot more questions, a lot more answers we have to have in the coming future,” he added.
Trump’s supporters were in town Jan. 6 for a “Stop the Steal” rally, full of people who believed that Joe Biden didn’t actually win the presidential election. Trump encouraged them to march to the Capitol to stop Congress ― and his own vice president ― from certifying the official Electoral College results on behalf of Biden.
McCarthy said Trump told his supporters to protest “peacefully.”
Indeed, he did say, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
But Trump also encouraged them to fight.
“We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he said. “You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
He also turned Mike Pence, his vice president, into an enemy, saying he had better do the “right thing.” Many Trump supporters who marched to the Capitol were furious at Pence, even talking about lynching him.
McCarthy’s insistence that Trump didn’t provoke the mob is in direct contradiction to what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said.
“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said Wednesday. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”
Relevant transcript from McCarthy’s interview with Van Susteren:
VAN SUSTEREN: It seemed like in the beginning that you thought that he had responsibility in what happened at the Capitol on January 6th, and then later you changed. Can you clarify that for me?
McCARTHY: No, I have not changed in that. I notice where people write about that. No, what I said, I thought the president had some responsibility when it came to the response. If you listen to what the president said at the rally, he said, “demonstrate peacefully.” And then I got a question later about whether did he incite them. I also think everybody across this country has some responsibility. Think about four years ago after President Trump was sworn in. What happened in the very next day? The title was resist with people walking in the streets, Maxine Waters saying to confront people, confront them in the restaurants. We had people poor, Steve [Scalise] got shot. What do we write on our social media? What do we say to one another? How do we disagree and still not be agreeable even when it comes to opinion?
So I think there’s from a whole nation, we should take this moment in time to find how we can correct ourselves. But President Trump said “peacefully.” What I said on the floor was that President Trump could have responded faster when the riots first started. I thought his video, the second video, was a very good video. I wish that was the first one.
Remember what we find out now? And this is where I have a real problem. The FBI knew that this was planned. The FBI knew so many days in advance, told the Capitol Police. And I am the Republican leader, no one told us. What did the Sergeant-of-arms know? Why didn’t he allow the national guard in there? These are the people that have a great deal of responsibility for protecting the Capitol and letting the Capitol get broken into.
If they knew ahead of time, the FBI, did they tell the Speaker, or did they tell the Sergeant-of-Arms and they didn’t tell the Republicans? Did they deny the National Guard to come forward because they didn’t like the look of that? Again, why didn’t they come to us and ask us? When we had a meeting the day before they said they were prepared for all of it. I think this is what we have to get to the bottom of, and when you start talking about who has responsibilities, I think there’s going to be a lot more questions, a lot more answers we have to have in the coming future.
UPDATE, 1/24 ― McCarthy tried to clarify his remarks on Twitter, insisting he wasn’t necessarily saying everyone in the country was responsible for Trump’s supporters attacking the Capitol, but rather that “it is incumbent upon every person in America to help lower the temperature of our political discourse.”