McCarthy's Dilemma

[ Posted Wednesday, July 7th, 2021 – 15:27 UTC ]

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has never been seen by anyone as any sort of profile in courage. The most common view of him, in fact, is that he's as spineless as a jellyfish. He has gotten to his position of power within the Republican Party largely by trying to be everyone's best buddy, but that's not exactly a core leadership quality, to put it mildly. And now he's in a pickle, because everyone is waiting to see what he's going to do about the House 1/6 Select Committee. My personal guess is that he'll figure out what the path of least resistance is and then embrace it. He's certainly done so before, so it's about all I expect from him.

The quandary McCarthy is now facing is that while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly named her eight picks to the new committee (including one prominent Republican, Representative Liz Cheney), it is now up to McCarthy to suggest the other five members. Theoretically, he is supposed to pick five GOP members and submit their names to Pelosi for approval. I say "theoretically" because at this point it's not even certain that McCarthy will do anything.

McCarthy could try to claim some sort of moral high ground, indignantly refusing to have anything to do with what Republicans are calling "a partisan investigation," thereby forcing Pelosi to either attempt to convince five sober-minded Republicans to serve or just throw caution to the wind and appoint five more Democrats. That last option isn't likely to fully happen, as Pelosi would almost surely then appoint at least one other Republican representative who has already expressed his willingness to serve (Adam Kinzinger). But if McCarthy refuses to act, it will deny a certain amount of legitimacy to the entire operation (at least, that would be the reasoning behind such a protest).

If McCarthy does decide to submit names, the decision he faces is pretty obvious. Either appoint sober-minded lawyers who will be able to make the Republican case in subtle ways, or appoint fire-breathing clowns who will play for the cameras every single second that their microphone is on.

Here's how Politico framed this dilemma:

Kevin McCarthy has a choice when it comes to the Democrat-led investigation of the Capitol riot: Get serious or go scorched-earth.

The California Republican's options aren't necessarily binary, but the path he takes could shape his political future as he eyes the speaker's gavel in 2023. Among McCarthy's members who have already lived through two Trump impeachments, some want the GOP leader to pick fighters skilled enough to withstand a months-long bombardment from Democrats trying to use the select committee to spotlight the former president's role in the deadly Capitol attack led by his supporters.

But the House Republicans most eager to serve on the Jan. 6 panel are the party's firebrands, more practiced at crafting viral clips of verbal attacks than they are at making a sustained, credible case against top Democratic oversight practitioners.

The Washington Post also weighed in (emphasis in original):

Here you see the real problem laid bare. It isn't just that some of the Democratic members of the committee -- Reps. Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren, both of California, and Jamie Raskin of Maryland -- already showed themselves as skilled impeachment managers against Trump.

It's also that it won't do the GOP much good if McCarthy assigns more serious Republicans. Why might this be?

Obviously, McCarthy might end up deciding it's less bad to appoint a few more sober Republicans to the committee, rather than only appointing "firebrands." He might conclude skillful GOP attorneys will obfuscate more effectively than, say, grandstanding about the illegitimacy of Trump's loss might.

But here's the bottom line: Being on this committee is a terrible position for more serious Republicans to take on. That's because they'll be on the wrong side of an argument that's fundamentally unwinnable.

Indeed, what we're likely to learn is how much worse the insurrection was -- and how much more implicated the Republican Party was in it -- than we originally thought.

Republican politicians fall somewhere on a spectrum that stretches from: "the past is the past, let sleeping dogs lie, let's look towards the future," to the more deranged: "it wasn't that big a deal, it was just a bunch of tourists... insurrection? What insurrection?" The first attempts to dodge the issue that Donald Trump still just cannot let go of (his Big Lie), so the important business of trying to get as many Republicans elected to Congress as possible can continue uninterrupted. Most Republicans espousing this one probably know full well that the Big Lie is indeed a lie and that Trump is harming their party by clinging to it with such ferocity, but they are terrified of ever contradicting any of it in public (for fear of how their own base voters will react). The second group is just deranged, and is trying to gaslight the entire country into disbelieving what we all saw on our televisions six months ago. A violent insurrectionist mob tried to prevent Congress from completing the final ceremonial step in announcing who the next president will be. They attacked the United States Capitol and chanted for the death of Trump's own vice president and forced their ways into the halls of power in an attempt to overthrow the will of the American voters. This is reality, as any single one of those videos from the sixth of January clearly shows. But it is not the "reality" the firebrands would have you believe.

The committee has its work cut out for it. So far, individual puzzle pieces of what transpired that day have been examined, individually. But nobody has tried to put the whole puzzle together yet. That's what this committee was created to do. This means not only listening to the high brass at the Pentagon, the Capitol Police, and the intelligence services (etc.) point fingers at each other in an attempt to shift blame, but also getting direct testimony from the officers who were there that day, about what they experienced and witnessed. Nobody from the White House has testified yet either. Several Republican House members have pieces of this story to tell, including McCarthy himself, who spoke to Trump on the phone right in the midst of the insurrection. And if Hillary Clinton can sit for more than ten hours to answer questions about Benghazi, then Donald Trump should surely be hauled before the committee to testify under oath about his own actions that day.

House Republicans, obviously, are terrified of all of this. They know full well that as these first-hand stories come out, their gaslighting attempts or their attempts to sweep it all under the rug and move on will be less and less effective. Also, the party's growing contempt for the police officers who bravely protected them that day will be on full display. What is going to happen if a GOP firebrand clown (Marjorie Taylor Greene or Jim Jordan, for instance) viciously cross-examines a cop who bled and suffered for the safety of Congress? How is that going to look to all those voters who just naturally assume Republicans support cops, all the time? It's not exactly good optics, as they say in Washington.

McCarthy will almost certainly suggest (at the very minimum) one firebrand for a spot on the committee. It'd be pretty hard for him to exclude the most rabidly pro-Trump faction of his party, at this point. He might even face a challenge from Trump himself if he does so -- there's a farfetched scenario that some are urging Trump to consider next year, where Trump runs for (and wins) a House seat. If Republicans take back control of the chamber (which wouldn't be that hard for them to do, really), then McCarthy would have to kiss his dream of being speaker goodbye because all his fellow Republicans would then vote for Trump himself to be speaker. In reality, Trump doesn't even have to accomplish the middle step, since there is no actual requirement that a speaker be a sitting member of the House -- even if Trump doesn't run, he still could be made speaker if the GOP regains control. Farfetched, but not completely out of the question. Not these days, at any rate.

McCarthy initially -- right after the insurrection -- had some strong words for Trump. This quickly faded, as McCarthy then made a pilgrimage to Trump's Florida golf club to beg forgiveness. So it'd be pretty hard to now see him deny the Trump faction any seats on such an important committee.

Pelosi, however, does not have to accept any of McCarthy's selections. Her refusing to seat the firebrands would cause a political uproar, but it might be a worthwhile one if it meant the hearings would not turn into an absolute circus -- which is pretty much guaranteed to happen even if only one GOP clown gets seated.

At this point, knowing McCarthy, my guess is that he'll just absolutely punt. He'll refuse to name any Republicans to the committee and he'll continue to make threats to his caucus about taking away their other committee assignments if they dare to serve. He probably won't ever follow through on these threats, however, seeing as how he has already failed to do so for Cheney. But McCarthy refusing to even play ball with Pelosi would be seen as taking a stand by Republicans -- doing everything he could to delegitimize the investigation. So, at this point, that would indeed seem like the path of least resistance for McCarthy -- and he almost always prefers to walk on such a path.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


27 Comments on “McCarthy's Dilemma”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The real funny thing is that McCarthy will probably sail relatively easily into the speaker's chair in 2023, unless Democrats leave the Trump nonsense behind and focus on garnering votes in the midterms, including voting registration campaigns to ensure that the Republican efforts to suppress votes won't be manifested in Republican wins across the board.

    But, of course, I expect Democrats to focus on partisan theatre to uncover what happened on January 6th when anyone who has been paying attention already knows what happened.

    I think we all need to be reminded of what Chris wrote in 'How Democrats Can Take Back Congress' and adapt it to how Democrats can gain healthy, filibuster-proof majorities in Congress!

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    You've given this as your position before: Dems should abandon the Jan. 6 inquiry and focus on vote-getting for the mid-terms. "Anyone who has been paying attention already knows what happened", you say.

    But I've been paying attention as much as anyone, I should think, and I don't know at all what happened - behind the scenes. Why, why, was the capitol so poorly defended? What, what, was the president doing that afternoon with his staff? Who among the mob had a sense of purpose and mission due to actual encouragement or coordination with the Republican Party whether in Congress or the White House?

    Only a commission of the kind the House is forming can get the answers to these questions, as they are fully outside the limits of any investigation into the actual law-breaking by the rebels.

    Nor do I think this is just "Trump nonsense" that will distract the voters from voting for the Democratic Party in 2022. I think it's the other way around: it's the Republicans in Congress who are desperate to put the Trump nonsense of a quasi-fascist coup attempt "behind" them so they will have a chance of winning next year in the face of a healthy Biden economy and a healthy Biden populace.

    Nor are the Democrats on the committee the same people responsible for a "focus on garnering votes" next year. It's two different jobs - Biden's is a third job - and they can all be done at once.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    walking AND chewing gum, john? i dunno, this IS the democratic party we're talking about...

    I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
    ~will rogers

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    John, thanks for your well-reasoned reply.

    I agree that there are a lot of very important unanswered questions about all that happened on January 6 at the Capitol and, more importantly, all that led up to it.

    I just think the highly charged partisan atmosphere that permeates Congress and, American politics, in general, makes Captiol Hill the absolute worst place to get at those answers. It'll be great political theatre, though but, I've seen that kind of clown show too many times and so it doesn't interest me.

    I also think all Democrats are responsible for working towards upholding voting rights and ensuring every citizen who wants to vote is able to vote. And, it will be on all Democrats to persuade voters that Democrats are fighting for the policies that help make the lives of people better, literally and economically.

    Once this partisan charade gets going it will take on a life of its own and I only hope your country will survive it. Isn't there a better way to get answers about what happened and why that doesn't include politicians?

    I really do care about what happens. I am here for one reason - I'm a big fan of the promise of America and more of it being fulfilled. Call me a cockeyed optimist and I'd be guilty as charged! :)

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Like what other way, Elizabeth?

    No other avenue exists besides, "Forget Trump tried to overthrow America because the arepugs don't want to participate."

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Obama tried to be bipartisan, and didn't get as much done as was needed.

    Biden is trying to be bipartisan, and is getting big things done despite doing so.

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    in his half century in politics joe biden might have learned a thing or two about how to get things done. it's not as if LBJ just wandered in and said, "hey, wouldn't a voting rights act be super?"


    p.s. i'm still convinced the talking filibuster should come back.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Is Congress the only entity in America that can put together a blue ribbon commission with subpoena power to investigate the insurrection at the Capitol and everything that led up to it?

    That can't possibly be the case, can it?

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    according to, there are 65 federal law enforcement agencies, 27 OIG's, and over 17,000 state and local agencies, all responsible for policing the USA.

    each of those agencies has a specific jurisdiction, limiting the scope of its investigation and enforcement. centrally investigating something that impacts the whole country, especially if some part of the executive branch may be involved or compromised, really does require a special commission or committee, either of which requires congressional approval.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What about the justice department?

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    When you say congressional approval, Joshua, would that require just a simple majority?

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What about empowering a grand jury in the District of Columbia.

    There just has to be a better way than a congressional committee, select or otherwise ...

  13. [13] 
    Mopshell wrote:

    In reply to Elizabeth [8] [10] and [12]

    There are two other authorities who can put together a commission to investigate the Jan 6 insurrection and they are the DoJ and the President.

    The reason the DoJ wouldn't choose to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate is that they're already investigating in a joint operation with the FBI. Every one of the 545 arrests so far has been investigated by this dedicated team and every one of them has been charged with one or more crimes.

    They have at least two grand juries already empanelled and handing down indictments. It wouldn't make sense for them to set up a Mueller-style investigation when their entire objective is to identify the perpetrators and indict them. They barely have enough resources to cover the operation they're currently running let alone managing a second investigation that mirrored what they're doing already.

    President Biden doesn't want to set up the commission because then he'd be accused of going after a political opponent. Republicans and the media would use it to paint him as destroying all semblence of the bipartisanship he said he wanted. Also, Biden made it very clear from the outset that, unlike Trump, he'd leave the law in the hands of lawmakers and law enforcement.

    One of Congress's major responsibilities is oversight. They can't just ignore the Jan 6 insurrection. They are duty-bound by their oath of office to investigate it. It's the biggest threat to democracy since the Civil War so it isn't something they can just ignore.

    Pelosi is also under extreme pressure from Democratic supporters to investigate. And since that is the case, she might as well use it to help Democrats in the run up to the midterms.

    Republicans want to quash it because they know it's going to be bad for them. In the original negotiation with House Republicans, Democrats agreed that a bipartisan, no-politicians commission would have to complete their investigation and report by December this year. Republicans insisted on that because it would give them 10 months to mitigate all the negative fallout.

    But since they sank that recommendation in the Senate, Pelosi is now punishing them by stating that the select committee will continue into next year, ie right up to the midterms if necessary. That's really smart because it will do tremendous damage to Republican chances, especially in addition to Gaetz being indicted by the DoJ (for multiple charges unrelated to Jan 6) and others who will be found guilty of charges directly related to Jan 6.

    Republicans have reason to panic and that's precisely where we want them.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Dream on.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Stick around ... I'll be playing that tune Sunday night(s). Heh.

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    yes, that last bit by mopshell is a bit hopeful - my sense is that the investigation won't have much impact on the midterm elections. however, her analysis of why the committee is necessary is accurate.

    the president won't, the doj can't, and nobody else has the breadth of jurisdiction necessary. congress is the only body who can make a public investigation happen, and they are oath-bound to do so.


  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    If that is the case, the the Democrats have already lost both houses of Congress.

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Can't any of you see where this congressional "investigation" is going!?

    And, haven't any of you read Chris's book!!!???

    Well, it'll come to you on the bus home ... I hope. :)

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    even if the republicans do clean up in the midterms, domestic terrorism needs to be addressed, and the instigators of 1/6 need to be brought into the light. i'm not talking about the losing presidential candidate, i mean the behind the scenes leadership.


  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, you are willing to risk Republicans taking full control!?

    Yes, domestic terrorism needs to be addressed and it goes way, way beyond the Capitol insurrection.

    If all you've got is a congressional committee, you ain't got much.

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The "behind the scenes leadership"?

    Are you freakin' kidding me!?

    The instigators are acting in full public view.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What are Democrats doing to mitigate against the negative consequences of Republican efforts across the country to restrict voting rights?

    You want to talk about behind the scenes leadership. I sure hope there is some on the Democratic side!

  23. [23] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I would love nothing better than to be proven completely wrong about all of this ...

  24. [24] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    LizM [24],

    What would you have them do? Punish Manchin and Sinema? McConnell would welcome both of them into his club and probably reward them with just about anything they want.

    Thanks to those two (and others who are less vocal), there will be no legislation regarding climate change, police reform, marijuana legalization, or anything else that matters to the black voters and young voters they need. The Dems are focused as usual on older, white voters who won't vote for them.

    So, they'll have to work with what's available and that's fear of the orange one and his band of terrorists.

    BTW - "efforts across the country to restrict voting rights" is not the issue that matters. If people really want to vote, they will. Republican legislation that will allow Republican legislatures to substitute their preferred candidates for actual winning candidates is what needs to be addressed. Don't hold your breath.

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hold my breath? Ha!

  26. [26] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    McCarthy’s in trouble no matter who he nominates to be on the committee. But it is the threat of having to testify that he knows will spell the end of his career in Republican politics that scares him the most. McCarthy’s phone call to Trump in the midst of the insurrection and their heated conversation have already been in the headlines for what it told us about Trump’s attitude at the time. His testimony will come off as very critical of Trump’s actions unless he decides to perjure himself…and we all know how Trump reacts to any criticism from Republicans — they get excommunicated from the cult!

  27. [27] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    ' And if Hillary Clinton can sit for more than ten hours to answer questions about Benghazi, then Donald Trump should surely be hauled before the committee to testify under oath about his own actions that day.'

    Haha...Said as the obvious should matter to these clowns. They checked their moral imperatives at the door, by their support of Trump they've displayed their contempt for all things morally grounded.

    Pelosi has the GOP by the short and curly hairs.

    For anyone to place two or three career diplomats' lives, and the resulting years of Clinton's blame over the five lives lost in more egregious acts of governmental sloppiness, is fucking abhorrent.

    If the GQP had even a smattering of common sense they'd throw all their dead-weight overboard. The hard right, given what I've seen, barely vote and rarely move the needle. Why pander to people whom the majority of Americans see as white trash?

    Unless white trash is what you are.


Comments for this article are closed.