House speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy stumbled through questions about his failure to condemn Donald Trump’s dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes, lying about the former president’s own statements regarding the matter in the process.
Following a meeting with President Biden and congressional leadership at the White House on Tuesday, McCarthy was asked why he had yet to issue a statement disavowing Trump’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago with embattled rapper Kanye West, Fuentes, and alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. McCarthy replied that doesn’t “think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes” and that ”he has no place in this Republican party.” He then claimed falsely that Trump had condemned Fuentes. “[He] came out four times and condemned him, and didn’t know who he was.” McCarthy said.
Trump has not actually disavowed Fuentes. In fact, sources with knowledge of the matter told The Guardian that Trump repeatedly rebuffed advice to do so. Instead, he issued a statement on Truth Social claiming West had blindsided him by showing up “with 3 people, two of which I didn’t know.”
The California congressman also attempted to provide cover for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), falsely asserting that she too had condemned Fuentes. Greene was a surprise speaker at Fuentes’ white nationalist-packed political conference America First PAC this February. Following backlash from her appearance, Greene claimed she hadn’t known who Fuentes was before appearing at the event. Rep. Paul Gosar also spoke at the conference.
At the time, McCarthy stated there was “no place for what has gone on with that organization,” in the GOP. “It will never be tolerated,” he claimed, while also declining to sanction Greene or Gosar for their participation in the event.
Republicans have been hesitant to denounce Trump for his interactions with prominent members of the far right, echoing a pattern that was established during his presidency. PBS News asked 57 lawmakers if they condemned the meeting; 40 did not respond to the question. The majority of GOP blowback to his dinner with three vocal antisemites has come from party members and Republicans already critical of the president, or those considering challenging him for the 2024 nomination.
In an interview with News Nation, Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence said “was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table. I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who are both rumored to be considering presidential runs, also lambasted the Mar-a-Lago event. “It’s very troubling,” Hutchinson said, “and it shouldn’t happen and we need to avoid those kind of empowering the extremes.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has remained mum on the subject, while McCarthy, like some other Republicans, made sure to provide cover for Trump. “The president didn’t know who he was,” McCarthy added on Tuesday after reporters continued to press him about the dinner, closing his eyes and turning up his head as he responded.
McCarthy’s bumbling rationalizations may be due in part to his delicate standing at the top of the House. He’s recently seen what he expected to be an easy slide into a position as speaker turn into a fight to quell an attempt to outflank him from the right by members of his own caucus. In an effort to win over the most extreme members of his party, McCarthy seems to be dishing out promises to fulfill the revenge fantasies of members like Greene. He indicated recently he will be lifting her ban from committee assignments. The congresswoman also reportedly secured a promise from House leadership to investigate Nancy Pelosi and the Department of Justice over Jan. 6.
The lack of unified messaging from party giants, and the hesitancy to draw a hard line against explicitly hateful right wing actors, speaks to the precarious position of Republican leadership in the aftermath of the 2022 midterms. With the expected “red wave” manifesting as little more than a pinkish ripple, the party is demanding a postmortem on the failures of their campaign strategy. GOP leadership likely fears further alienating any faction of their party will push their necks one step closer to the chopping block.