House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is offering a glimpse of the Donald Trump-inspired authoritarian streak likely to animate a Republican majority if the party triumphs in next year’s midterm elections.
In the latest manifestation of the possible future House speaker’s hard right turn, he warned telecom and social media companies could lose their right to operate on US soil if they comply with any requests by the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection to turn over records of calls made by lawmakers.
His threat is best understood in the context of McCarthy’s role as the ex-President’s chief protector on Capitol Hill, after helping to scupper an independent commission into the worst attack on US democracy in modern history and joining the whitewash of what happened. He has also made clear he sees Trump as his best hope of capturing the House next November, after several visits to consult with the de-facto GOP leader, who retains a firm hold on his loyal base voters. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made a different calculus when it comes to retaking the Senate. He also helped thwart that independent commission but has had a much icier relationship with the former President after blaming him for January 6, and Trump on Wednesday called for the Kentucky Republican to be “removed as the leader.”
The idea that a Republican House could simply close telecommunications companies on a whim appears fanciful and lacking any obvious legal basis. The Republican leader might simply have been trying to please his party’s most powerful figure and to engage GOP voters in a new political fight. Nothing would be more Trump-like than stirring the conservative media machine by making a bullying threat that he has no legal capacity or even an inclination to carry out.
Yet McCarthy’s warning was still one of his most extraordinary moves yet in the service of a twice-impeached former President who left office in disgrace after inciting the insurrection based on his multiple lies about election fraud.
In effect, a potential future speaker was warning he could use government power to punish private companies that comply with routine requests by a legally mandated committee probing a political mob that sacked the US Capitol.