Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the US House of Representatives, has come under fire from some of his fellow party members after an audio recording showed him saying that then-president Donald Trump should resign over the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
The comments, which Mr McCarthy had denied hours before the recording emerged, could undermine his widely known ambition to become House Speaker next year if Republicans take control of the chamber in November's midterm elections.
But as criticism of the House minority leader mounted on Twitter, the Washington Post reported that he and Mr Trump had spoken by phone and that the Republican former president was not upset about the congressman's remarks, which could greatly mute the rank-and-file reaction among Trump supporters.
The audio, recorded days after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and delayed certification of Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election victory, depicts a conversation between Mr McCarthy and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who was ousted from party leadership weeks later over her opposition to Mr Trump.
Mr McCarthy told Ms Cheney he planned to call Mr Trump to discuss a mechanism for invoking the 25th Amendment, under which then-vice president Mike Pence and members of the Cabinet could have removed the Republican president from office.
“The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign,” Mr McCarthy says in the recording, released on cable news channel MSNBC late on Thursday.
Mr McCarthy's office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The first reference to his comments appeared earlier on Thursday in a New York Times article published as part of a forthcoming book by two reporters from the newspaper.
The Times also reported that Mr McCarthy told other Republican leaders he wished big tech companies would strip social media accounts from party lawmakers who supported Trump's false claims of a rigged 2020 election.
Mr McCarthy initially denied the Times account in a statement that called the reporting “totally false and wrong".
US Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the few Republican politicians openly critical of Mr Trump, blasted Mr McCarthy on Twitter on Thursday night.
“Question for Kevin McCarthy … how can you honestly feel OK with the lies? Yes, other people lie too, but you have claimed to fight for a higher purpose,” Mr Kinzinger asked. “Honestly Kevin, is it worth it?”
Another attack on Mr McCarthy came on Friday from Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, a staunch Trump ally and hard-line conservative who has actively opposed Ms Cheney — who is running for re-election in Wyoming — for supporting Mr Trump's 2021 impeachment and joining the Democratic-led House committee investigating the January 6 riot.
“While I was rallying in Wyoming against Liz Cheney … Kevin McCarthy was defending Liz Cheney among House Republicans … you should have trusted my instincts, not your own,” Mr Gaetz said in a tweet.
Mr McCarthy, who has also faced criticism from other hard-line conservatives within his caucus, publicly zigzagged on Mr Trump's culpability for the January 6 riot by first saying the former president bore some responsibility for the violence — but finally visited Mr Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort home in Florida and posed for a photograph with him.
Mr McCarthy's fate will depend largely on Mr Trump, who remains the most powerful figure in the Republican Party more than a year after he left office.
The Post cited two unnamed sources as saying that Mr McCarthy and Mr Trump spoke on Thursday night and that the former president was glad the Republican leader did not follow through with his plan to ask him to resign, seeing it as a sign of his continued grip on the Republican Party.