The answer became clear when instead of calling Trump, as he often did when Trump was president, he is now set to visit with Trump in Florida on Thursday. The meeting was initiated by McCarthy, a person familiar with the meeting said, and is part of an effort to get back into the good graces of the former president.
McCarthy was in Florida on Wednesday, where he was fundraising, as the House is out this week.
Despite political pressure from some in the GOP that the party must move on from Trump, McCarthy is eyeing what will win him back the House and possibly catapult him to the speakership. Sources told CNN he is eager to realign himself with Trump after corporate donors — including American Express, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Commerce Bank, Dow and Marriott — have suspended PAC donations to members of Congress who objected to certifying the election for Joe Biden.
For McCarthy, the balance falls between needing to appeal to GOP donors and to Trump’s base, which still makes up a powerful force in the party and will need to turn out in order for the GOP to win back the House in two years. Not to mention if McCarthy wants to ascend to the speakership in two years, he will need hold on to the Trump wing of his own conference or risk a challenge. For years, one of McCarthy’s strongest attributes as leader has been his propensity to bring in large fundraising hauls for the conferences. His prolific fundraising was highlighted Wednesday by National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer during a private GOP call.
The fallout has led to questions about McCarthy’s leadership in his conference. As much as McCarthy cannot afford to lose support from members of the Freedom Caucus, he also can’t lose the backing of members in front-line districts that could help him win back the majority.
“We’re in a terrible position, as a country and as a party,” one Republican aide told CNN. “I think a lot of people are frustrated at Kevin because he’s at the helm of the conference.”
McCarthy has backtracked on Trump’s role in the insurrection as recently as this week, when he was criticized at his most recent news conference for saying he didn’t believe Trump “provoked” the insurrection “if you listen to what he said at the rally” — after saying two weeks earlier that Trump bears responsibility.
When asked in an interview Sunday with Gray Television if he had changed his stance on Trump’s role in the Capitol attack, he said: “No, I have not changed in that.”
“I thought the president had some responsibility when it came to the response. If you listen to what the president said at the rally, he said, ‘Demonstrate peacefully,’ ” he told Greta Van Susteren.
McCarthy has said he’s aware there’s a divide in his party he must address and that the conference plans to meet and speak freely.
“We can have differences of opinion, but I do believe we’re going to have a conference next week to air the differences, unite individuals and move forward, to work for all Americans,” he told Fox News in an interview last week. “That’s the best approach we can take.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Michael Warren and Manu Raju contributed to this report.
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