For years now, through controversy after controversy, House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY has bent over backward to stay in former President DONALD TRUMP’s good graces, all to serve one major purpose: He wants to be speaker someday.
That hope may have just blown up on the launchpad.
On Thursday night, NYT’s Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns delivered an absolute stunner of a scoop: an audio recording of a phone call on Jan. 10, 2021, in which McCarthy is heard clearly and unambiguously saying that Trump should resign. Listen for yourself
What happens on the tape: McCarthy essentially conspires with Rep. LIZ CHENEY (R-Wyo.) about how to get Trump to step down as president after the Jan. 6 insurrection. On the call, Cheney — now Trump’s Enemy No. 1, but at the time, the House GOP’s No. 3 leader — asks McCarthy if Trump is going to resign. McCarthy responds: “I mean, you guys all know him, too — do you think he’d ever back away? But what I think I’m going to do is I’m going to call him … The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this [impeachment resolution] will pass and it would be my recommendation you should resign.”
Making this all the more explosive is the backstory to the recording’s release:
- Early Thursday morning, the NYT published a piece by Martin and Burns drawing on the reporting for their forthcoming book, “This Will Not Pass.” They revealed that McCarthy (1) described Trump’s conduct related to Jan. 6 as “atrocious and totally wrong,” (2) called on Trump to resign and (3) “inquired about the mechanism for invoking the 25th Amendment” to remove him from power.
- McCarthy’s office denied Martin and Burns’ reporting. In a statement, the GOP leader called it “totally false and wrong.”
- Then, on Thursday night, Martin and Burns went on RACHEL MADDOW’s MSNBC show with audio proof that their reporting was correct — making McCarthy look silly in the process.
THE BIG QUESTION NOW: IS MCCARTHY TOAST? We made a bunch of calls to top Republicans both on and off the Hill on Thursday night, and there are two big things to watch here that could answer that question in the coming days:
1) Trump himself. All it would take is one wink and nod from the former president, and McCarthy would have serious problems getting the gavel. The former president has turned against those he views as unloyal Republicans for less. He recently unendorsed Alabama Rep. MO BROOKS’ Senate bid because Brooks — who backed his efforts to overturn the election — said it was time for Republicans to move on from relitigating 2020. Will Trump view McCarthy’s sin as worse? And if so, does he withhold his support for “My Kevin,” as he once called him, in his bid for speaker?
There are a few views on this:
- We caught up with one senior House Republican and McCarthy ally who noted that Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) also reportedly threatened to use the 25th Amendment against Trump over Jan. 6 — and has otherwise criticized Trump on occasion — but has remained firmly on his good side. This ally argued that McCarthy should be just fine, called the audio a “nothingburger” and predicted that Trump will move on.
- Another senior Republican official (someone who is not on the Hill but is frequently in touch with Trump’s camp) argued that McCarthy could make the case to Trump that he was looking out for the president in this situation, wanting him to resign before he embarrassed himself with a conviction in an impeachment trial.
Two key questions that may help decide Trump’s reaction:
- Did McCarthy deny the reports in conversations with Trump himself? That’s something multiple Republicans we spoke to Thursday night wondered. And if he did, will Trump be furious that he was misled?
- Will Trump forgive McCarthy after hearing the audio on an endless loop on cable news?
2) Conservative House Republicans. How do MAGA die-hards like Reps. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) and MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) react? They’ve already suggested they could oppose McCarthy for speaker. Does this reporting spark a rebellion?
One senior House Republican aide told us Thursday night that there’s already some grumbling among the rank and file over a report by Burns and Martin that McCarthy wanted to get some of his own members kicked off Twitter — and you can expect that to dominate GOP conversations when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week. (On MSNBC, J-Mart teased that they have audio of McCarthy saying this, too.)
How will the more traditional House Republicans react? The senior GOP lawmaker noted that many Hill Republicans freaked out during and after the Jan. 6 attack. “Thank God my private conversations weren’t recorded after Jan. 6,” the lawmaker said. “We were all very emotional.” In that sense, they argued, Republicans on the Hill could be more forgiving of McCarthy because they were in the same boat: concerned about Trump, but too afraid of him to do or say anything about it.
The senior GOP aide, however, wasn’t so sure. They noted that the entire situation Thursday shows that McCarthy has a “trust” issue.
“He’s a bald-faced liar who literally just has no problem completely lying. And that doesn’t sit well with members,” the senior aide said. Still, they noted that McCarthy has plenty of time before a potential speaker run to win back any defectors.
THE PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: RUBEN GALLEGO — On the latest “Playbook Deep Dive” podcast, we sat down with Rep. Gallego for a conversation unlike any interview we’ve ever had. For more than five hours, Ryan and the Arizona Democrat talked over food and drinks at an upscale seafood restaurant in Phoenix. Gallego spoke about what it was like to think he was going to die — first as a Marine in Iraq, and then again in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He was brutally honest about what he really thinks of Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA, whom some progressives hope he’ll primary in 2024 (and who fired him from a job many years ago). And he let loose about Democrats’ problems with Latino voters. You can listen to the show here — and trust us: you’re not going to want to miss this one.
Here are some of the moments that stood out to us:
— On what Democrats get wrong with outreach to Latino voters: “We don’t really talk about the American dream to Latinos; we talk to them like we talk to white liberals. But they’re not white liberals! Latinos want to be rich, they want to be successful, they want to be secure, they want to have jobs, they want all these things. … A bunch of fucking big, big donors [who] are all white liberals end up hiring liberal consultants, [who] end up hiring other very liberal Latino consultants. And they all have this massive fucking feedback loop.”
— On Sinema: “She’s not going to be out here stumping for Democrats. She’s all about herself. She’s not going to help [Sen.] MARK [KELLY]. She’s not going to help [gubernatorial candidate] KATIE HOBBS. … She cares about herself. She doesn’t care about the Democratic movement. She doesn’t care about working-class people. … I think she cares more about her career than she cares about, like, what we can do with our elected office.”
— On his mindset as the Capitol was being overrun on Jan. 6: “I’ll be honest … I was going to kill somebody that day. I was not going to die that day. Like, I survived a war. … Whatever it took, I was going to survive.”
— On the impromptu combat training he gave fellow members on Jan. 6: “I was teaching [my colleagues] how to stab [the rioters] in the neck and stab them in the eye. … We had pens … I don’t give a fuck. Like, I would have killed all those motherfuckers to save this democracy. Fuck those guys.”
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN’S FRIDAY (all times Eastern):
— Noon: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief.
— 1:30 p.m.: Biden will deliver remarks on Earth Day and the climate crisis at Seward Park in Seattle.
— 3:30 p.m.: Biden will deliver remarks on lowering health care and energy costs at Green River College in Auburn, Wash.
— 5:15 p.m.: Biden will depart Auburn en route to New Castle, Del., where he is scheduled to arrive at 10:40 p.m.
THE SENATE and THE HOUSE are out.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
THE WHITE HOUSE
BIDEN’S LATEST POLITICAL BIND — Despite growing opposition from fellow Democrats, the Biden administration is standing firm in its decision to end Title 42 on May 23, Laura Barrón-López, Christopher Cadelago and Eugene report this morning.
That decision has placed Biden in a political bind. “The president is attempting to balance his long-standing promise to revoke the policy — which, under the banner of fighting the Covid pandemic, justified the immediate expulsion of migrants without due process — right as Republicans weaponize immigration before the midterms and as a growing number of Democratic senators want restrictions to remain in place for fear that the administration is not prepared for a summer surge of migrants to the border.”
Among Democrats, one major concern is that Republicans have thus far been able to define the debate on immigration. And many Democrats in competitive races want the administration to leave Title 42 in place, neutralizing a GOP talking point in what already appears to be a brutal midterm cycle for the party.
But that resistance to Biden’s Title 42 change is running headlong into a coterie of immigrant activists, lawmakers and former administration officials who want the administration to stay the course:
— “If Democrats would just remind the American public that this is the brainchild of STEPHEN MILLER, who also separated 5,000 children from their parents, and that the president campaigned on overturning all these cruel policies of the Trump administration, I think the American public would support [the change],” said one former Biden official.
— “This is not a policy to applaud or defend or anything,” said a White House official. “It simply is a public health directive on whether there is a public health risk associated with processing migrants or not. The [CDC] made a determination that there wasn’t and that we’re OK to move forward with lifting it on May 23.”
Still, some see a way for Biden to dodge a catch-22: Multiple states have filed lawsuits to stop the administration from lifting Title 42 — which could provide the White House with an out. “The little secret here is they don’t think they’re actually going to have to end Title 42,” said one immigration advocate familiar with the White House’s thinking. “They’re expecting to lose a lawsuit that’s going to force them to keep it in place.”
VEEP FILES — The VP’s office is set for another shakeup. TINA FLOURNOY is stepping down as chief of staff, and will be replaced by LORRAINE VOLES. (WaPo’s Tyler Pager was first to report the news.) Eugene has the deets on the new face in the role: “Voles, who also worked on the transition, was brought in to focus on strategic communication, restructuring [KAMALA] HARRIS’ office during growing scrutiny of the vice president last summer. Originally, she was supposed to stay on only temporarily, but aides have described her as critical to the office as she’s been leaned on more and more during her time on staff.”
ON THE HUNT — “Prosecutors investigating HUNTER BIDEN subpoenaed documents from a paternity lawsuit that included tax records for the president’s son,” CBS’ Catherine Herridge and Andrew Bast report. “‘They wanted every record relating to Hunter Biden we had,’ CLINT LANCASTER told CBS News. Lancaster represented LUNDEN ROBERTS, a woman who filed suit against Hunter Biden in 2019 alleging he was the father of her child. A December 2020 subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Delaware, obtained by CBS News, requested all documents ‘regarding [Hunter] Biden’s income, assets, debts, obligations, and financial transactions… and all personal and business expenditures.’”
HOW THE CNN+ IMPLOSION HAPPENED — NYT’s Michael Grynbaum, John Koblin and Benjamin Mullin go behind the scenes on the fall of CNN+. The biggest takeaway: Whatever good intentions and bright ideas were concocted for the streaming service, a particular series of dominoes fell that doomed the effort before it had a chance to work.
“Executives at Discovery, wary of antitrust rules, were constrained from advising their counterparts at CNN until the merger was done. CNN+ had lost its champion when [JEFF] ZUCKER left in February … Discovery’s merger left the conglomerate owing about $55 billion, which executives are now under pressure to repay.
“CNN had been planning to spend more than $1 billion on CNN+ over four years, two people familiar with the matter said, even renting out an additional floor of its pricey Manhattan skyscraper. … Executives at CNN+ said they had secured 150,000 paying subscribers and were on a pace to hit first-year subscription goals. Executives at Discovery were not impressed: At any given time, fewer than 10,000 people were watching the service, said two people familiar with the numbers, who were not authorized to speak publicly.”
FETTERMAN FED UP WITH … SENATE DEMS? — In an interview with CNN, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. JOHN FETTERMAN “didn’t hide his palpable frustration with Democratic senators, saying, ‘I am disappointed in our caucus’ for not increasing the $7.25 federal minimum wage, and he blamed West Virginia Sen. JOE MANCHIN for blocking the Biden agenda, leaving his party ‘floundering,’” Manu Raju, Alex Rogers and Ali Zaslav report.
But he also said this: “‘I don’t mean to nitpick, but I wouldn’t categorize myself as progressive. … I consider myself a Democrat that’s running on the same platform of ideas that every other Democrat in this race is running on. And I can’t think of a Democrat running nationally that’s running on anything functionally different in that regard.’ Fetterman, 52, added plainly: ‘If a moderate Democrat is somebody that would break with the rest of the caucus and screw up Build Back Better or the Democratic agenda, then I’m not a moderate.’”
— Related read: “Fetterman comes under fire in first televised debate,” by Holly Otterbein
REDISTRICTING READS, PART I — “New York’s congressional maps were improperly gerrymandered, mid-level court concludes,” by Bill Mahoney
REDISTRICTING READS, PART II — “Florida approves DeSantis-backed congressional maps that dismantle Black lawmaker’s seat,” by Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout
WAR IN UKRAINE
— The view from Washington: “Senior Biden administration officials say they believe that the next four weeks will shape the eventual outcome of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with long-lasting ramifications that will influence the drawing of the map of Europe for decades to come,” report NYT’s Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and David Sanger.
— Nightmare in Mariupol: “Mariupol survivors, dazed and exhausted, describe horrors they endured,” by WaPo’s Louisa Loveluck and David Stern … “For Civilians Trapped in Mariupol, Fleeing Can Be as Risky as Staying,” by WSJ’s Vivian Salama … “Why Mariupol matters to Russia in three maps,” WaPo
— TERRY WOLFF has joined the NSC to help coordinate the security assistance the U.S. and its partners are providing to Ukraine. He is a retired three-star general and Army armor officer, with prior experience at DOD, Joint Staff, State and the NSC. More from CNN
REMEMBER THIS GUY? — BRIAN KOLFAGE — the founder of the viral “We Build the Wall” campaign that sought to privately crowdsource the funding for construction of a border wall — “on Thursday admitted in court that he conspired to secretly take more than $350,000 of the millions of dollars he’d received in donations,” BuzzFeed’s Salvador Hernandez reports.
JUST POSTED — “MARK MEADOWS was simultaneously registered to vote in three states,” by WaPo’s Glenn Kessler
TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week”: Dan Balz, Laura Barrón-López and David Sanger.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
CBS “Face the Nation”: Ukrainian PM Denys Shmyhal … Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) … European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde … Scott Gottlieb.
FOX “Fox News Sunday,” guest-anchored by Sandra Smith: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) … House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). Panel: Karl Rove, Juan Williams and Jeff Mason.
NBC “Meet the Press,” guest-moderated by Kristen Welker: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Panel: Peter Baker, Sara Fagen, Errin Haines and Carol Lee.
MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: Missouri state Rep. Ian Mackey … Jane Mayer … Ivo Daalder … Caroline Randall Williams … Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow … Sophia Nelson … Rob Reiner.
CNN “Inside Politics”: Panel: Julia Ioffe and Susan Glasser. Panel: Catherine Lucey, Eva McKend and Rachael Bade.
ABC “This Week”: Panel: Rick Klein, Cecilia Vega, Vivian Salama and David Sanger.
Jimmy Kimmel discussed his recent dust-up with Marjorie Taylor Greene on Kara Swisher’s NYT podcast. He also called Tucker Carlson the “media version of the Sackler family.”
John Fetterman ditched his usual uniform of a hoodie and shorts for a suit and tie.
Feel-good story of the day: Norm Ornstein was reunited with his lost pup that ignited a Twitter search party.
Andy Kim fantasized about a new home for Disney World in his home state of New Jersey: “Imagining seeing Mickey in an Eagles jersey as I’m eating pork roll while on the ‘wudder’ rides of Splash Mountain.”
TikTok influencer Harwant is working with the White House to amplify messaging around air filtration and Covid.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — To celebrate Earth Day this year, Secretary of State (and rocker at heart) Antony Blinken threw together a Spotify playlist, and it’s quite eclectic — from Miley Cyrus to Bob Dylan to Childish Gambino.
SPOTTED: “The West Wing” alums Melissa Fitzgerald and Janel Moloney at Rakuya on Thursday night.
TRANSITIONS — Jason Resendez will be the new president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. He previously was executive director of the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s Center for Brain Health Equity. … Rusty Schultz is joining Platform Communications as director of public affairs and corporate comms. He previously was chief of staff for Wisconsin state Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, and is a Ron Johnson and Scott Walker alum.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Jeremy Pelofsky, partner at Finsbury Glover Hering, and Christine Grimaldi, a reproductive rights journalist and culture writer, welcomed Genevieve Helen Grimaldi-Pelofsky on Wednesday. She was named for Christine’s grandmother, who was featured in a story she wrote for The Atavist earlier this year.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY:Don Graham … Reps. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) … White House’s Allie Peck … Joe Pounder of America Rising and Bullpen Strategy Group … POLITICO’s Elana Schor and Gaurav Agrawal … E&E News’ Rob Hotakainen … WaPo’s Eugene Scott and Sari Horwitz … NYT’s Helene Cooper and Elisabeth Goodridge … CNN’s Arlette Saenz … DOE’s James Kvaal … Dahlia Lithwick … NBC’s Matt Korade … Andrew Taverrite … Christopher Jennison … Sarah Hunt of the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy … Patrick Rucker … Wade Henderson … Ted Ellis of Americans for Prosperity … Stars and Stripes’ Bob Reid … Glenn Simpson … Krista Jenusaitis Zuzenak … McKinsey’s Elizabeth Anderson Ledet and Allie Medack … Allegra Kirkland … Seth Samuels … Brian Forde … Arielle Brown of the American Cleaning Institute … Anastasia Dellaccio … SKDK’s Josh Dorner … Nicole Bamber … Mark Braden … Adele M. Stan … Walter Fields … Andrea LaRue … Chung Seto … Julie Whiston
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