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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Entertainment
Martin Pengelly in Washington

Kevin McCarthy dismissed Liz Cheney warning before January 6, book says

Liz Cheney
Both Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger sat on the House January 6 committee. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

When Liz Cheney warned fellow Republicans five days before January 6 of a “dark day” to come if they “indulged in the fantasy” that they could overturn Donald Trump’s defeat by Joe Biden, the then House GOP leader, Kevin McCarthy, swiftly slapped her down.

“After Liz spoke,” the former Wyoming representative’s fellow anti-Trumper Adam Kinzinger writes in a new book, “McCarthy immediately told everyone who was listening, ‘I just want to be clear: Liz doesn’t speak for the conference. She speaks for herself.’”

Five days after Cheney delivered her warning on a Republican conference call, Trump supporters attacked Congress in an attempt to block certification of Biden’s win.

McCarthy’s statement, Kinzinger writes, was “unnecessary and disrespectful, and it infuriated me”.

Kinzinger details McCarthy’s “notably juvenile” intervention – and even what he says were two physical blows delivered to him by McCarthy – in Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country, which will be published in the US this month. The Guardian obtained a copy.

Nine deaths have been linked to the January 6 riot, more than a thousand arrests made and hundreds convicted, some with seditious conspiracy. Trump was impeached a second time for inciting the attack, and acquitted a second time when Senate Republicans stayed loyal. When the dust cleared from the January 6 attack, McCarthy was among 147 House and Senate Republicans who still voted to object to results in key states.

Like Cheney, Kinzinger, from Illinois, sat on the House January 6 committee, then left office. Unlike Cheney, who was beaten by a Trump ally, Kinzinger chose to retire.

Cheney has maintained a high profile, warning of the threat Trump poses as he leads polling regarding the Republican nomination next year, 91 criminal charges (17 concerning election subversion) and assorted civil threats notwithstanding, and refusing to rule out a presidential run of her own.

Kinzinger has founded Country First, an organisation meant to combat Republican extremism, and become a political commentator. In his book, he says he responded to McCarthy on the 1 January 2021 conference call by issuing his own warning about the potential for violence on 6 January and “calling on McCarthy to say he wouldn’t join the group opposing the electoral college states.

“He replied by coming on the line to say, ‘OK, Adam. Operator, who’s up next?’”

Such a “rude and dismissive tone”, Kinzinger says, “was typical of [McCarthy’s] style, which was notably juvenile”.

McCarthy briefly blamed Trump for January 6, swiftly reversed course, stayed close to the former president and became speaker of the House, only to lose the role after less than a year, in the face of a Trumpist rebellion.

Kinzinger accuses McCarthy, from California, of behaving less like a party leader than “an attention-seeking high school senior who readily picked on anyone who didn’t fall in line”. And while characterising McCarthy’s dismissal of Cheney’s warning about January 6 as “a little dig”, Kinzinger also details two physical digs he says he took from McCarthy himself.

“I went from being one of the boys he treated with big smiles and pats on the back to outcast as soon as I started speaking the truth about the president who would be king,” Kinzinger writes.

McCarthy “responded by trying to intimidate me physically. Once, I was standing in the aisle that runs from the floor to the back of the [House] chamber. As he passed, with his security man and some of his boys, he veered towards me, hit me with his shoulder and then kept going.

“If we had been in high school, I would have dropped my books, papers would have been scattered and I would have had to endure the snickers of passersby. I was startled but took it as the kind of thing Kevin did when he liked you.

“Another time, I was standing at the rail that curves around the back of the last row of seats in the chamber. As he shoulder-checked me again, I thought to myself, ‘What a child.’”

Kinzinger is not above robust language of his own. Describing Trump’s Senate trial over the Capitol attack, the former congressman bemoans the decision of the Republican leader in that chamber, Mitch McConnell, to vote to acquit because Trump had left office – then deliver a speech excoriating Trump nonetheless.

“It took a lot of cheek, nerve, chutzpah, gall and, dare I say it, balls for McConnell to talk this way,” Kinzinger writes, “since he personally blocked the consideration of the case until Trump departed.”

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