House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015.
Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Trying to defend Trump, GOP leader caught off guard by reality

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) occasionally gets into trouble for saying embarrassing things in private. A few years ago, for example, shortly before Donald Trump clinched the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, McCarthy told his House GOP colleagues he thought Trump might be on Vladimir Putin’s payroll.

But just as problematic for McCarthy is what he says in public. Exactly four years ago yesterday, for example, the California Republican appeared on Fox News and admitted that his party’s Benghazi Committee was a political tool intended to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential election.

Last night, the House Minority Leader appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes to defend the president against the Ukraine scandal, but McCarthy appeared lost when Scott Pelley presented him with basic factual information.

PELLEY: What do you make of this exchange? President Zelensky says, “We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.” And President Trump replies, “I would like you to do us a favor though.”

MCCARTHY: You just added another word.

PELLEY: No, it’s in the transcript.

MCCARTHY: He said- “I’d like you to do a favor though”?

PELLEY: Yes, it’s in the White House transcript.

At the bottom of page two of the call summary, released by the White House, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is quoted talking about how eager his country is to receive additional military support from the United States. The very next words out of the American president’s mouth, according to the document, are, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”

I don’t understand why McCarthy didn’t know that. In fact, when the House GOP leader was presented with the now-infamous quote, he reflexively assumed that the CBS News correspondent was engaged in a public deception, “adding another word.”

To put this in some additional context, McCarthy knew he was going on 60 Minutes. He knew the topic. He and his staff had time to prepare for basic questions about obvious details – such as the single most controversial phrase in the rough transcript that created a political earthquake the moment it was released. It’s only 10 words; it stands to reason McCarthy would’ve familiarized himself with it before his national television appearance.

But House Republicans don’t appear to be sending us their best.

Too often, GOP officials rely exclusively on conservative media, which filters out accurate information Republicans really ought to know. Then, when the cocoon is punctured, and folks like McCarthy are exposed to details the rest of us already know, they’re incredulous.

“Wait a second,” the House Minority Leader seemed to say last night, “you mean there’s evidence of the American president telling his Ukrainian counterpart, ‘I would like you to do us a favor, though’ in the context of a conversation about military aid?”

Well, yes. It’s in the document McCarthy probably should’ve read before going on 60 Minutes. Maybe after learning a bit more about reality, the House Republican leader will reconsider the scandal through fresh eyes?