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McCarthy: 'I don’t know' if Trump is the strongest candidate to beat Biden in 2024

The speaker said former President Donald Trump could beat President Joe Biden but signaled that Trump may not be the best GOP contender to win back the White House.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the Capitol on June 21, 2023.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy didn't say who would be a stronger GOP nominee than Trump in 2024.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., expressed some doubt Tuesday that former President Donald Trump is the best GOP candidate to defeat President Joe Biden and win back the White House next year.

In an interview on CNBC, McCarthy initially said Trump could beat Biden in November 2024.

"Yeah, he can beat Biden," said McCarthy, who added that "Trump’s policies are better, straightforward than Biden’s policies."

Asked whether Trump can win the general election given two criminal cases in which he's the defendant, McCarthy signaled that he may not be the strongest option.

"Can he win that election? Yeah, he can," McCarthy said. "The question is is he the strongest to win the election? I don’t know that answer. But can somebody, can anybody, beat Biden? Yeah, anybody can beat Biden."

He didn't specify who might be the stronger GOP contender.

McCarthy's office didn't respond to a request for comment.

Hours later, on Tuesday afternoon, McCarthy appeared to change his tune, saying in an interview with Breitbart that Trump is "stronger today than he was in 2016."

"As usual, the media is attempting to drive a wedge between President Trump and House Republicans as our committees are holding Biden’s DOJ accountable for their two-tiered levels of justice,” McCarthy told the far-right website. "The only reason Biden is using his weaponized federal government to go after President Trump is because he is Biden’s strongest political opponent, as polling continues to show."

Not long after his Breitbart interview, McCarthy's campaign sent a text to supporters calling Trump "the STRONGEST opponent to Biden!" It included a fundraising link, asking for donations that would be divided between McCarthy's campaign and Trump's Save America PAC; the default allocation is $24.75 to McCarthy and 25 cents to Trump.

Trump was recently charged in a 37-count federal indictment over his handling of classified documents he took with him from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. He was separately charged in early April by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to his alleged role in hush money payments toward the end of his 2016 presidential campaign. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

McCarthy's remarks are notable given his alliance with and long-standing defense of Trump and his actions. Even though McCarthy said days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that Trump should "accept his share of responsibility" for the riot, he visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago a few weeks later to smooth things over.

McCarthy has repeatedly praised and expressed support for Trump, who endorsed him for speaker this year only after he failed to secure the gavel on three floor votes.

McCarthy told reporters Friday that he backs a proposal from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., to "expunge" both impeachments of Trump; the measure would be purely symbolic and nonbinding. McCarthy justified his position by claiming that both impeachments "had no due process."

“I voted against both impeachments. The second impeachment had no due process.” McCarthy said, noting he opposed a recent move to impeach Biden. “What was raised this week was someone wanting to take impeachment to Biden to the floor. And I didn’t think that was right, because there’s no due process, right? So shouldn’t you be consistent, especially with the Constitution?"