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After subpoena, McCarthy now in the trenches with his pro-Trump wing

The Jan. 6 committee’s demand for testimony from the House minority leader ties him even closer to the conservatives of his conference—and raises the specter of subpoenas for Democrats if the majority flips.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy heads to his office surrounded by reporters on Thursday after House investigators issued a subpoena to McCarthy and four other GOP lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
May 12, 2022, 7:13 p.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has tacked closer to some of former President Trump’s biggest congressional allies in recent months, and on Thursday that relationship became even more intertwined.

The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks issued subpoenas to five House Republicans—McCarthy and Reps. Andy Biggs, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, and Mo Brooks—over their alleged involvement in the planning and aftermath of events on Jan. 6 or their knowledge of Trump’s response to the riot. The panel previously sent requests for the five members to talk to the committee, but they declined to participate.

“These five, I think, have some of the most pertinent information for the committee,” panel member Adam Schiff told reporters Thursday. “These are people who participated in the rally, were on the phone with the president, who the president reportedly told to rescind the election, and one of whom may have been pursuing pardons for those involved.”

The move, which is unprecedented in modern times, further ties the minority leader to the far right of his conference. He and top members of the Freedom Caucus, one of the most conservative groups among House Republicans, are now more than ever entrenched together against the Jan. 6 committee. The Freedom Caucus’s current chair is Perry, while Jordan and Biggs have led the 30-plus-member group of conservative firebrands, as well.

“This is all for headlines and sensationalism,” Perry told reporters Thursday. “The fact that they send it to the press before they send it to the members just proves this whole thing’s about headlines. This whole thing’s a charade.”

McCarthy has courted conservatives including members of the Freedom Caucus for months as he vies for the speaker’s gavel should the GOP take the House majority in November. He has pulled in Jordan particularly close, with the pair holding a joint press conference during the GOP retreat in March, when Jordan—a critic and rival of McCarthy’s in the past—reaffirmed his support for McCarthy to become speaker.

In his bid for speakership, McCarthy’s relationship with the key members of the conservative wing of his conference has become even more critical. In a series of conversations recorded just after Jan. 6 and recently released by The New York Times, McCarthy said he had concerns that some of the far right members in his own conference would incite further violence. Jordan dismissed the reports, though Biggs said they created a “huge trust issue” for him.

Jordan and Perry didn’t respond to reporters’ questions Thursday when asked whether they would comply with the subpoenas. In a series of tweets, Biggs called the Jan. 6 investigation an “ongoing, baseless witch hunt” but didn’t say whether he’d ultimately comply with the subpoena.

“They’re going to do what they think is best, and I’ll support them in whatever decision they make,” Republican Rep. Rodney Davis told reporters Thursday.

Davis, the ranking member on the House Administration Committee, was one of the five Republicans originally selected by McCarthy to serve on the Jan. 6 committee. But after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected Jordan and Republican Study Committee Chair Jim Banks, the rest pulled out as well.

The decision by the committee to subpoena sitting members of Congress opens up the possibility of retaliation if the GOP is in the majority next year, when they could issue their own subpoenas.

Davis has criticized the committee for not focusing as much on failures inside the Capitol security complex before and during the attack, and he could attempt to subpoena Pelosi in any Republican-led investigation, inquiring about her decisions related to securing the Capitol in the days before the riot. Davis, though, didn’t say whether he plans to issue subpoenas to members if he’s in the majority next year.

“I’m not convinced that the security-apparatus failures have been adequately addressed yet,” Davis told reporters. “That will be my focus in the majority.”

Other Democrats could be in the Republicans’ sights if a GOP majority chooses to issue its own subpoenas.

McCarthy has pledged to remove Schiff from his perch on the Intelligence Committee if he becomes the speaker, accusing the California Democrat of lying about intelligence related to President Biden’s son Hunter. McCarthy has pledged to pull Rep. Eric Swalwell off of the Intelligence Committee as well, due to past contacts with a suspected Chinese intelligence operative.

Schiff told reporters Thursday that he was more concerned about the integrity of the 2024 presidential election should the House GOP have the majority than whether he will get a subpoena.

“What I’m most concerned about if the Republicans should ever get near the gavel is that they will overturn the next election if Trump loses again,” said Schiff, who has been a frequent target of conservatives since his key role in Trump’s 2019 impeachment inquiry, when he frequently clashed with Jordan.

Additionally, Rep. James Comer, who would likely become the chair of the Oversight Committee if Republicans take the majority, has indicated he is open to investigating Hunter Biden over his foreign business deals, calling the president’s son a “national security risk” earlier in May. Lawmakers subpoenaing a sitting president’s child would be an unprecedented move.

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik told the New York Post in March the GOP would issue a subpoena to Hunter Biden.

But if Republicans plan to issue their own subpoenas next year, they’ll have to consider whether complying with the Democrats’ current requests would strengthen their case with the public.

So far, there’s little indication Republicans will comply, and Jan. 6 committee members didn’t say whether they would move to hold recalcitrant Republicans in contempt. Still, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of the two Republicans on the panel, and Rep. Jamie Raskin said they hoped some members would show up now that they’re compelled to do so.

“I’m an eternal optimist. I assume they will comply,” Kinzinger said. “If they don’t, we’ll figure it out, but it’s important for us to get every piece of information we possibly can.”

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