House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has done it again: He’s disgraced himself in service to twice-impeached former President Donald Trump. This time, he’s officially come out against a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 violent insurrection, even after one of his own GOP allies negotiated a compromise deal that should have satisfied most of McCarthy’s prior objections (that’s what a compromise is, and if you get most of what you want, you go for it).
But deep down, all McCarthy wants is to protect Donald Trump, and perhaps himself. To recap: McCarthy had demanded that any commission have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats (Speaker Nancy Pelosi had proposed more Democrats, since they control the House, Senate and White House); that members appointed by both parties have subpoena power (Pelosi’s first proposal appeared to give Democrats veto power over GOP-sought subpoenas), and be able to investigate other instances of political violence, in his view, including antifa phantoms and Black Lives Matter protesters (Pelosi, correctly, said no).
When Fox News’s Chris Wallace noted last month that Pelosi had conceded on two out of three major issues, McCarthy continued to insist: “In the last year we’ve had political violence across this country and in this city. I think we should look at all of that.”
Then things appeared to get a little bit interesting. Democrat Bennie Thompson took the lead on hammering out commission details, and Republican John Katko became his partner (they are chair and ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee). This was widely viewed as a move approved by McCarthy, since Katko has been a close ally and is a member of his whip team. The bipartisan duo hammered out an agreement, announced Friday, which codified the compromises Pelosi had signaled and a little more (you can read details here). The commission’s focus would be limited to the January attack, and the factors that inspired it.
The weekend’s big guessing game involved whether McCarthy would back Katko’s proposal. After four days, he came out and said no, throwing his ally, as Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman tweeted, “under the bus.” McCarthy still insists the commission must investigate not just January 6 but “interrelated forms of political violence” (whatever that means), while acknowledging that Katko “worked hard to improve the bill, but it’s just not there yet.”
What does it all mean, besides what we already knew, that McCarthy is a Trump toady? Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall might have the best short analysis here (even if it is rather cruel to puppies). “McCarthy was on the phone with Trump at the critical moments demanding the then-President do something,” Marshall notes. “McCarthy’s testimony would likely be some of the most illuminating about the President’s state of mind and actions. That’s a nightmare for McCarthy. Of course he wants to avoid it.”
McCarthy has already dissembled about his January 6 conversation with Trump, multiple times, including on Fox News with Wallace. But as apostate Representative Liz Cheney noted on Sunday, also to Wallace, McCarthy would be a very important witness in any insurrection investigation. “He clearly has facts about that day that an investigation into what happened, into the president’s actions, ought to get to the bottom of. And I think that he has important information that needs to be part of any investigation, whether it’s the FBI, the Department of Justice or this commission that I hope will be set up.”
Katko, like Cheney, voted to impeach Trump. McCarthy’s move today, just like his vote to strip Cheney of her leadership position last week, proves that Republicans like them, and the other eight impeachment supporters, are at the far fringe of the party—we can call it the non-lunatic fringe, but that doesn’t make it any stronger. The GOP House leader has proven that his is the party of AOC-stalking, gun-toting Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida man Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for possible sex crimes and fraud. Anyone hoping that Katko’s compromise signaled the emergence of a saner GOP got stripped of that hope on Tuesday. As they do on pretty much any day ending in Y.