- May 29, 2001
By the Editorial Board
April 23, 2022 at 8:00 a.m
The public already knew that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blamed President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol invasion. He said so at the time on the House floor. It has also been clear that, despite knowing better, he has since supplicated himself to Mr. Trump, calculating that he must deny what he knows to be right in hope of winning the speaker’s gavel after this year’s midterm elections. Now, the New York Times’s Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin have revealed new details about Mr. McCarthy’s thinking following Jan. 6 — and, by implication, the extent to which he is willing to sacrifice core democratic principles to advance his political career.
The Times reported Thursday that Mr. McCarthy not only blamed Mr. Trump for the Jan. 6 violence but also discussed with GOP lawmakers how to pressure the then-president from office. “I’ve had it with this guy,” he reportedly declared, saying that Mr. Trump’s behavior was “atrocious and totally wrong,” “inciting people” to batter down the Capitol’s doors. Discussing the possibility of impeachment, and what he would say to Mr. Trump, Mr. McCarthy said, “It would be my recommendation you should resign,” according to an audio clip the Times released after the minority leader brazenly tried to deny the newspaper’s reporting. Mr. McCarthy also reportedly discussed using the 25th Amendment, which allows the sidelining of presidents for mental or physical incapacity, to force out Mr. Trump.
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But, just weeks later, Mr. McCarthy slinked down to Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, posing for a photo of what should have been a disgraced former president. “I didn’t know they were going to take a picture,” Mr. McCarthy reportedly said, as though that was the problem with his humiliating pilgrimage to kiss Mr. Trump’s ring.
So the picture is even clearer than before: The potential future House speaker manifestly lacks the moral fiber to lead — too afraid of the GOP base to stand up to a man he knows means harm to the nation’s democratic system. It was once unthinkable that malevolent partisans, wayward conspiracy theorists and spineless careerists such as Mr. McCarthy might combine to overturn a legitimate democratic election. Now, it seems alarmingly possible, perhaps as soon as 2024.
Democrats and Republicans of good will must have no higher priority than bolstering U.S. democracy against a second attack of lies accompanied by cockamamie legal theories about how state legislatures, Congress or the courts could overturn election results based on invalid accusations of fraud. Key to doing so is rewriting the process for counting presidential electoral votes prescribed under the archaic Electoral Count Act. Protections are needed so that a partisan Congress cannot try to reject presidential electors on a simple-majority basis. The bar needs to be raised for lawmakers even to object to electors, raising public doubts about U.S. democracy’s legitimacy. And it should be made absolutely clear that the vice president cannot unilaterally reject electors during the congressional count, as Mr. Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence to do.
A bipartisan band of senators led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has held discussions on updating the act, but the group appears to have made little progress in months of talks. The group plans to meet next week. They must hurry. If Mr. McCarthy is speaker next year, it will be only harder to reinforce U.S. democracy against Mr. Trump’s second attempt to steal a presidential election.