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GOP’s McCarthy haunted by his failed Jan. 6 committee strategy

As the Jan. 6 committee ends, members should send Kevin McCarthy a gift basket: Were it not for his misstep, the process would’ve been vastly more painful.


House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was one of four Republican members referred to the House Ethics Committee yesterday by the Jan. 6 committee, and three of the four publicly criticized the developments. McCarthy, however, spent yesterday saying effectively nothing.

It’s possible the Californian was so focused on his struggling bid to become House speaker that he didn’t have time to consider the latest from Jan. 6 investigators. But it’s also possible that McCarthy doesn’t want to talk about the committee at all — because he realizes he made a mistake in how it took shape.

The House Jan. 6 committee will release its full report on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Follow our live blog beginning at 10 a.m. ET for expert analysis in real time at

Let’s revisit our earlier coverage and take a stroll down memory lane.

In April and May of last year, the House GOP leader dispatched a trusted ally, New York Rep. John Katko, to negotiate the terms of an independent commission to examine the Jan. 6 attack. As regular readers may recall, McCarthy made sure to include unreasonable demands he expected Democrats to reject.

When Democrats agreed to Republicans’ terms anyway, McCarthy refused to take “yes” for an answer and rejected the compromise he’d asked for.

At that point, lawmakers moved on to Plan B: They’d create a bipartisan, special select committee to uncover the facts that McCarthy said he was eager to learn. As part of the process, GOP leaders were invited to recommend a slate of House Republicans to participate in the investigation, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the final call on whether or not they qualified.

McCarthy picked five members, two of whom were rejected for being anti-election radicals, though Pelosi was willing to accept the other three Republicans chosen for the panel. Outraged, McCarthy quickly announced a boycott of the committee.

In other words, Pelosi offered him an opportunity to have three conservative Republicans participate in this investigation. He instead chose to have zero.

A year later, it became clear to much of the GOP that McCarthy failed to think this through. A senior House GOP aide told NBC News in the spring, for example, “I would say it’s absolutely a strategic mistake.”

That talk grew louder in the weeks and months that followed. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman noted in June that some Republicans were privately “angry” with McCarthy, and Donald Trump went considerably further soon after.

“Unfortunately, a bad decision was made,” the former president said in his best passive voice. Though he didn’t call out McCarthy by name, Trump added that it “was a bad decision not to have representation on that committee. That was a very, very foolish decision.”

When Fox News pressed the minority leader in July on whether he’d erred, McCarthy responded, “No, not at all — because nothing would be different.”

That was unpersuasive at the time, and it’s no better now. His decision left the Republican conference completely in the dark for months. The GOP didn’t know what evidence the committee had, couldn’t prepare effective defenses, couldn’t influence the direction of the investigation, couldn’t ask contrary questions during public or private proceedings, couldn’t call witnesses, couldn’t leak anything, and couldn’t dilute the panel’s findings.

“Nothing would be different”? Everything would be different.

McCarthy seemed to believe he was punishing House Democrats when he refused to participate in the process he previously supported. If he’d only thought ahead a bit more, the would-be House speaker would’ve realized he was doing far more harm to his own interests.

As the Jan. 6 committee nears its end, members should probably send Kevin McCarthy a gift basket: Were it not for his strategic failure, this process would’ve been vastly more painful.