“I alone take all the heat to protect people from Trump! I alone keep the party together!” he yelled at Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) during a previously undisclosed meeting in McCarthy’s office on Feb. 25, 2021. “I’ve been working with Trump to stop him from going after Republicans like you and blowing up the party the air and destroy all our work!”
Stunned by McCarthy’s anger, Herrera Beutler began to cry. Through tears, she apologized for not telling him in advance that she had confirmed to the media the details of a call McCarthy made to Trump on January 6, 2021, urging him to tell his supporters to leave the US Capitol .
“You should have come to me!” McCarthy said. “Why did you go to the press? That’s no way to thank me!”
“What did you want me to do? Lay down?” Herrera Beutler fired back. “I did what I thought was right.”
The intense meeting between Republican lawmakers is detailed in the new book, “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump,” by Washington Post reporter Karoun Demirjian and Politico reporter Rachael Bade, a copy of which The Post obtained in advance for the release. next week. Several excerpts detail McCarthy’s state of mind from Election Day 2020 to the beginning of the Select Committee Investing Rebellion on 6 January.
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“McCarthy’s tirade against Herrera Beutler was just the start of what would become a GOP-wide campaign to whitewash the details of what happened on January 6 in the wake of the second impeachment,” the authors write.
McCarthy and Herrera Beutler both denied the explosive details of their 2021 meeting in a statement to the authors, saying their reporting “is wrong.”
“In addition to several inaccuracies — it’s dramatized to fit an on-screen adaptation, not to serve as a document. We know it’s wrong because we were the only two in the room for this conversation,” said the joint statement to the authors The authors state that their reporting was confirmed by someone in the room during the argument and several lawmakers who heard the account firsthand from McCarthy.
The amicus brief decision
The book describes the political calculations made by congressional leaders and those who played a central role in the two impeachment cases against Trump that ended in acquittal. McCarthy’s internal conflict began shortly after Trump claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Trump’s false claim that he had won the election moved his allies in the House to sign an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn election results in key states. According to the book, McCarthy sought advice from Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), then the chairman of the House GOP conference chair, about what to do about the amicus brief, ultimately telling her he would not sign it because it would “give the federal government too much power over choice.”
But even though McCarthy knew that “embracing [Trump’s] denials could spark national unrest,” according to the book, the minority leader eventually caved. He eventually signed the brief after learning that “Trump and his allies were outraged when he noticed” that his name was missing. McCarthy at the time blamed a “technical error” for the omission.
McCarthy’s office denied to the authors that he ever asked Cheney for advice or had reservations about supporting the amicus brief. Bade and Demirjian note in the book that the denial runs counter to what was relayed to them by several people in McCarthy’s office at the time, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
McCarthy frequently deviated from advising his conference in the period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, refusing to state whether he would vote to annul the election or how he would vote on impeachment. The authors describe him as “frozen between his allegiance to Trump and his own ethical compass.” Each time he chose his ambition.
McCarthy not only blessed the attempts to overturn the Jan. 6 election results, but also gave the green light to a move by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to set up shop off the House floor and lobby colleagues to join the effort. The decisions worried some of McCarthy’s own staff, according to the book, as well as more moderate House Republicans, who worried the objections could lead to violence.
Fallout from the impeachment vote
McCarthy often found himself seeking to do the right thing before changing course, the book details. After evacuating to Fort McNair as rioting was underway at the Capitol on January 6, McCarthy called Cheney to inform her that upon his return he would force the GOP conference to abandon objections to the Electoral College numbers. But he bowed out again after Jordan argued that backing out at that point would make them all look weak. Jordan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“Yet the GOP leader’s lust for power had come at a high price: By refusing to push back on the president, McCarthy had helped turn the GOP into a party that promoted conspiracy theories and lies,” the authors write. “Now those lies had led to violence and a rebellion. And as much as he hated to admit it, McCarthy was ashamed.”
Knowing that a vote to impeach Trump would drive a dagger through his speaker ambitions, but finding Trump’s January 6 inaction indefensible, McCarthy allowed his conference to vote their conscience on impeachment. He also knew they could vote in a way he couldn’t.
“Republicans came to him looking for answers about whether to vote to impeach the president. McCarthy didn’t know what to tell them. How could he turn on Trump when he needed him to land his dream job one day — but how could he capture his rank and cause to oppose impeachment when he knew Trump was guilty,” the authors write.
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Herrera Beutler was one of many Republicans who asked him for advice. Their conversations turned into “a therapy session” for McCarthy, who knew that telling the truth about Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 would influence her to vote for impeachment, according to the book. He told her about the call where Trump praised the rioters, how Trump was unmoved to act or take responsibility for his actions since.
McCarthy’s promise to protect those who chose to impeach Trump on Jan. 6 was short-lived. Trump was “apoplectic” over McCarthy’s suggestion to censure him rather than hold an impeachment trial, reportedly telling “anyone who would listen that the man who had once been ‘my Kevin’ was actually the biggest ‘p— –y’ in Washington.” McCarthy’s conference coalesced around Trump again, furious after Twitter and Facebook banned him from their platforms and colleagues sided with Democrats to impeach their president.
To remedy that, McCarthy met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in late January 2021 and told his Republican colleagues who voted for impeachment that his meeting was “to make peace with the former president” and to ensure that he would not act to retaliate against them.
But McCarthy’s outburst a month later with Herrera Beutler, and his decision to support Cheney’s ouster as conference chairman later, reflected similar retaliatory tactics by Trump. The former president ended up working to find primary challengers for all 10 Republicans, including Herrera Beutler. At least five of them will not return to Congress.