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Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy Has Some Tough Choices About The Future Of The GOP

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The fight for the future of the Republican Party is coming to a head this week in the House, and that is causing all kinds of headaches for Kevin McCarthy. He is House minority leader, so the most senior Republican. And he's facing pressure from all sides on how to deal with two of his fellow Republicans - Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House - although some want to push her aside because she voted to impeach President Trump - and Marjorie Taylor Greene, the new representative from Georgia who has openly embraced all kinds of debunked conspiracy theories. Well, I am joined now by Seema Mehta. She's a political reporter for the Los Angeles Times in Kevin McCarthy's home state, California.

Welcome.

SEEMA MEHTA: Thanks so much for having me on.

KELLY: So as minority leader, how much power does Kevin McCarthy actually have in determining the fates of either Liz Cheney or Marjorie Taylor Greene?

MEHTA: Well, I think his voice is influential to his caucus. And he's obviously the most - you know, the highest, most powerful Republican in D.C. right now. But he's facing the same problem or question that the Republican Party is more broadly, which is, what is the future of the party, especially as it relates to former President Trump? And, you know, some of the people who have been the most vocal and energetic and passionate supporters of the party in recent years are at odds with the people who have been on the mainstream of the Republican Party for decades.

KELLY: And do we know what his actual views are on either of these situations, by which I mean not what he thinks is the smart political move but what he actually thinks is the right thing to do?

MEHTA: I don't think we actually do because he's offered - like, if you look at his statements about the former president and whether he had a role in the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on January 6, he had sort of a dizzying array of responses saying, yes, the president bears responsibility. No, the president doesn't bear any responsibility.

KELLY: I think he landed, if I may, that Trump bore some responsibility but so did everybody all over the country. right.

MEHTA: Right. Yeah, but, I mean, it's - like, I think that that series of responses led to a lot of questions out here in his district and in his state about, you know, what does he truly believe there? Were his answers driven by political calculations, which his critics argue that they totally were? Or was he grappling with it? But with Marjorie Taylor Greene, I think that's the big question we're going to see this week, you know?

We know that he's aware of her comments. And it's not even controversial. I mean, these are really out-there theories, you know, saying that the California wildfires were set by a laser beam controlled by a Jewish banking family. I mean, these are not even, like, mainstream, like, conspiracy. I mean, these are really out there, you know? - suggesting that school shootings and 9/11 were hoaxes, you know? He - I think they've said he's going to have discussion with her, but we haven't seen him really speak out about that. And that's in comparison to Mitch McConnell, who had quite a strong rebuke of these comments, even though he didn't mention her by name, earlier this week.

KELLY: Yeah, this is Mitch McConnell, who - you've just called Kevin McCarthy the most powerful Republican in Washington.

MEHTA: Right.

KELLY: Mitch McConnell would have had something to say about that a few weeks ago...

MEHTA: I'm sorry. Right (laughter).

KELLY: ...When he was the Senate majority leader. He remains the top Republican in the Senate. And, yeah, he has talked about the loony lies and conspiracy theories, as he dubbed it, of Marjorie Taylor Greene. How much does that complicate things for McCarthy?

MEHTA: I mean, I think the two of them have two different jobs. And so McConnell is looking out for senators who represent much broader areas and more disparate populations, while congressional districts - because of gerrymandering and because of people's decisions to sort of self-locate with other people who think like them - tend to be more polarized. And so I think they're in two different spots. But I also think the one big question for McCarthy is that, you know, we saw something like 190 companies say that they're not going to donate to people who did not support the certification of Joe Biden's election. And one of the things Kevin McCarthy has always been known for is being a really prodigious fundraiser. And that's one of the things that has given him a lot of power in the Republican Party and in D.C. And if that goes away, I mean, I think that raises a lot of questions about his future.

KELLY: What does he want for his future? Do we know how high his political ambitions go?

MEHTA: I think ever since he was inside the legislature in Sacramento, he's always been viewed as an ambitious guy, as a charming guy. His views are - I mean, he was sort of viewed as a moderate in Sacramento. I mean, he was not viewed as a - you know, as a super-conservative. And I think his critics argue that he has changed his views to align with the party to increase his power.

KELLY: That is Seema Mehta of the LA Times talking to us about Kevin McCarthy.

Thank you very much.

MEHTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.