GOP leader pretends Trump didn't say what we heard him say

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)
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.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) isn't just a random backbench member of Congress. He's the top Republican in the U.S. House, and he'd likely be elevated to the House Speaker's office in the event of a GOP takeover of the chamber.

The California Republican is also a close ally of Donald Trump and the White House, who's helped take the lead in his party for defending the president against the Ukraine scandal.

It's just not going especially well for him.

On CBS' 60 Minutes two weeks ago, McCarthy seemed inexplicably lost when told that Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, "I would like you to do us a favor, though." Last week, the House Minority Leader told Fox News, "You watch what the president said, he's not saying China should investigate." In reality, Trump stood on the White House South Lawn, appeared in front of a significant group of journalists, and literally said, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."

All of which led to this morning's press briefing with the House Republican leadership.

Q: I hear all of you attacking the impeachment process but none of you defending the president's actions. Do any of you think it was okay for the president to ask more than one foreign nation to investigate his campaign rival?McCARTHY: The president wasn't investigating a campaign rival. What the president was trying to get to the bottom, just as every American would want to know, why did we go through two years?

The Republican leader went on to describe the Russia scandal as a "hoax," again in defiance of reality, suggesting that Trump's focus has been retrospective, not focused on Biden.

I honestly don't understand what it is that Kevin McCarthy doesn't understand.

It's been nearly a month since the White House released an official call summary of Trump's July 25 conversation with Zelensky, in which the American president was quoted saying, "[T]here's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with [Attorney General Bill Barr] would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me."

A week after that call summary was released to the public, Trump stood on the South Lawn of the White House and told reporters on camera, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens." The Republican added soon after, "I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens."

With this in mind, when McCarthy says the president wasn't pursuing an investigation into a domestic political rival, did he just miss these developments? Is he hoping that we missed them? Did he not understand what Trump very clearly said?

While we wait for those answers to come into focus, there's also the larger issue of Republicans continuing to struggle with the root question: is it all right for a president to solicit campaign assistance from a foreign power? Some in the party -- most notably Iowa's Joni Ernst and Colorado's Cory Gardner -- have struggled to dodge the question, while Texas' Ted Cruz actually answered it well.

Leave it to Kevin McCarthy, however, to pretend Trump didn't say what everyone else heard him say.