capitol riot

Kevin McCarthy Between Rock and a Wild Place on January 6 Inquiry

The House Minority Leader has some unhappy options. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is conducting himself in a manner suggesting he’s not entirely in control of his caucus when it comes to Republican participation in the Select Committee on January 6, which was just authorized by the House on a party-line vote. According to multiple sources, he’s threatening his troops with withdrawal of committee assignments if they answer Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for Republicans to fill the seats on the January 6 panel that have been reserved for them. Per CNN:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday issued a blanket threat during a meeting with freshmen members of his caucus that he would strip any Republican member of their committee assignments if they accept an offer from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection, according to two GOP sources with knowledge of the matter.

So far the previously stigmatized former House GOP leadership member Liz Cheney of Wyoming is the only Republican to violate McCarthy’s edict. But she is already a leper, and will probably soon be an ex-congresswoman. She was, moreover, one of just two House Republicans to vote for establishment of the select committee. The other, fellow Trump-impeacher Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, responded to McCarthy’s threats by telling Politico, “Who gives a shit?”

It’s possible that McCarthy, having asserted his power to take or leave committee assignments offered by Pelosi, will relent and appoint some members of his own choosing. But that could lead to a different problem: the eagerness of some of his most out-of-control members (e.g., Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert) to serve on it so that they can “own the libs” with daily explosions of juvenile obstruction. If McCarthy wants to convey an attitude of mild contempt for the investigation instead of letting the Wild Things identify their party with loopy conspiracy theories and rabid Trump worship, finding an excuse not to cooperate at all might be the best play.

The cross-pressures on the Californian may be intensified by reactions to Greene’s chronic misconduct in particular. Over the weekend, she was a warm-up act for the MAGA crowd at Donald Trump’s Ohio rally, at which she heaped abuse on her Democratic colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom she called “a little communist,” feeding and then nodding at cries of “lock her up.” Since Greene had already lost her committee assignments in no small part for threats of violence against AOC and other members of the so-called Squad, this was a pretty clear provocation. And it spurred a letter to McCarthy from a group of House Democrats (including AOC) demanding “immediate action” to head off potential “violence against members of Congress.”

It’s the threat of “violence against members of Congress,” of course, that animates the effort to fully investigate the Capitol riot of January 6, which Republicans cannot decide if they should cheer, condemn, ignore, blame on antifa, or treat as a “normal tourist visit” (in the words of Greene’s extremist Georgia colleague, Andrew Clyde). As CNN’s Ryan Nobles notes, McCarthy has dodged serious discipline for Greene up until now, and is unlikely to throw her completely under the bus as opposed to the occasional fatherly injunction to behave herself:

[A]s evidenced by her appearance at Trump’s rally – which he held for a primary challenger to one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him – Greene has strong support from the former President. McCarthy has repeatedly shown an unwillingness to cross the base of the party or Trump.

So the Minority Leader has no clear and safe path, other than passive resistance to the select committee and other investigations of MAGA threats, and the hope that intervening news creates more congenial spotlights.

McCarthy Between Rock and a Wild Place on January 6 Inquiry