WASHINGTON — Republicans in Washington are betting that the televised Jan. 6 hearings aren't breaking through, that voters are more worried about gas prices and inflation and that — basically — no one cares.
But one man is paying attention: Donald Trump. And he’s not happy no one is defending him.
The former president has reserved special criticism for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who made the call last year to yank all five Trump allies from the special panel after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rejected two of his picks.
McCarthy’s strategy seems not only to have backfired. It’s also raising new questions about whether McCarthy will be able to secure the coveted speaker’s gavel should Republicans win control of the House, given the political reality that he would likely need Trump's blessing.
Trump’s private frustrations have spilled out into public view.
"Such tremendous lies and innuendo took place yesterday at the Unselect Committee on January 6th," Trump said Wednesday on his social media platform, Truth Social. "You will never get the truth when you have biased and hateful witnesses who are allowed to go on and on without even the slightest cross examination. Republicans should be allowed representation!!!"
Tuesday, Trump railed against McCarthy's strategy to boycott the committee, although he didn't mention McCarthy by name.
“In retrospect, I think it would have been very smart” to put Republicans on the committee, Trump said in an interview with Punchbowl News. “I think it would have been good if we had representation.”
“I think in retrospect” McCarthy should have put Republicans on the panel “to just have a voice,” Trump said. “The Republicans don’t have a voice. They don’t even have anything to say.”
In a separate interview over the weekend, Trump corrected conservative radio host Wayne Allen Root and made it clear that he had endorsed McCarthy for re-election to the House — not for speaker. He then disparaged the GOP’s strategy as being “very foolish” and a “bad decision.”
“In a way, Republicans should be ashamed of themselves,” Trump said.
But a person close to Trump said his complaints leave out an important detail: McCarthy pulled Trump allies from the panel as part of a deliberate strategy developed with Trump allies. The idea at the time was to denigrate the panel as being filled with “Trump haters.” That way, when the committee members issued their findings, Trump and his allies could simply dismiss them as “partisan," the person said.
“So, basically, you just push it off as a partisan witch hunt,” this person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Republicans’ thinking about the committee.
Yet, as Trump has pointed out, he and his allies are at a distinct disadvantage. The Jan. 6 committee — comprising seven Democrats and two GOP Trump critics, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — has been able to hold a series of carefully orchestrated hearings on Trump’s plot to overturn the 2020 election with zero interference or pushback from Trump allies.
The first four hearings have showcased live and recorded testimony from Republicans — including former top White House and administration officials, aides to former Vice President Mike Pence and state officials — discussing how Trump orchestrated an aggressive pressure campaign to block certification of Joe Biden’s victory and stay in power.
A fifth hearing, focused on Trump's efforts to pressure Justice Department officials to investigate false claims of widespread voter fraud, is set for 3 p.m. ET Thursday. McCarthy and other Republicans will hold a news conference during the hearing on the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
The hearings have sparked concern within Trump’s circle about his electability should he run for president in 2024.
“I look at this and say there is nobody in America who is watching this — even with all that’s going on in the world with Joe Biden — and saying, ‘Donald Trump should be the next president of the United States,’” the person close to him said. “Nobody.”
Unlike during his first impeachment hearings, Trump has no allies on the Jan. 6 panel who are in a position to try to interrupt Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and other Democrats, cross-examine a parade of GOP witnesses or introduce evidence of their own about security failures at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Most of the rebuttal has come from Trump himself. He has been putting out a steady stream of statements on Truth Social denouncing the committee’s work as biased and unfair. But Trump's removal from Twitter means he lacks the large megaphone he used to respond during past congressional efforts.
He got more personal in a speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference last week in Nashville, Tennessee. He called Cheney a “warmonger” and said another member of the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has a head shaped like a “watermelon.”
There has been little in the way of counterprogramming from his staunchest allies. The Republican National Committee has instead kept a focus on inflation and other troubles that have plagued Biden.
The RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel's Twitter feed in recent days is a window into the party's priorities. She writes about rising gas prices. She mocks Biden. She congratulates former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for her pregnancy announcement. But she says nothing about the Jan. 6 committee's withering assessment of Trump.
Polling has found that Americans care most about economic issues like high gas prices, and that’s what GOP strategists have kept front and center.
Asked about Trump’s criticism, McCarthy said he had spoken to the former president.
He then pointed to a House special election in Texas that Republicans won last week, where Mayra Flores flipped a seat that was previously held by Democrats.
“Since Nancy has appointed this political committee, gas has gone up $1.86,” McCarthy said at a news conference Tuesday, referring to Pelosi.
The Democrats are “focused on an issue that the public is not focused on," he continued. "The public is focused on why is inflation so high, why is the border insecure, crime is rising. Everything is costing more.”
McCarthy has said he has no regrets about boycotting the committee.
McCarthy is still the favorite to be the next speaker; no rival has emerged to challenge him. If Republicans flip the House in the November midterms, McCarthy likely would have little problem winning the GOP nomination for speaker.
But if Trump loses confidence in him or throws his support to someone else, McCarthy's lifelong dream of leading the House could be derailed.
Asked twice whether she would support McCarthy for speaker, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a vocal Trump defender, demurred.
“I’m hoping we take back the majority. But as far as in our conference, Kevin McCarthy’s the one that’s running for speaker of the House. So I’ll think about that,” Greene said.
But she and several other members of the Trump-aligned House Freedom Caucus wouldn’t join Trump in criticizing the decision to have no Trump allies on the committee.
The Jan. 6 panel “has no traction outside of Washington," Greene said. "I know people at home in Georgia just don’t care about it. Truly, their issues are they can’t afford gas, they’re worried about their groceries, they’re worried about inflation — those are the things people are talking, and they are just not paying attention to the Jan. 6 committee.”
Another member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., also declined to fault McCarthy.
“We tried, but unfortunately Pelosi is more like a dictator here and decided not to follow tradition in the House on committees and said, ‘No, we’re not going to accept your appointees and only going to accept Republicans who hate Trump,’” Lesko said in an interview.
“The Jan. 6 committee is a total sham. It’s just out for political blood. It has nothing to do with getting to the bottom of why the Capitol wasn’t secured on Jan. 6.”