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Reports: McCarthy rebuked Trump over Antifa, election claims

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House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and President Donald Trump react to farmer Larry Starrh praising the president's efforts towards farmers during Trump's February visit to Bakersfield.

Reports have surfaced Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, privately urged President Donald Trump Monday to recognize President-elect Joe Biden won the election and accept that the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week were Trump supporters, not members of the leftist group Antifa.

Together with an account Tuesday that McCarthy has floated the idea of asking the president to step down, the anonymously sourced reports suggest the House minority leader's famed loyalty to the president may have diminished in the aftermath of the deadly riot.

The online news service Axios reported McCarthy rebuked Trump on Monday in a "tense, 30-minute-plus call," at one point interrupting a presidential rant about election fraud to say, "Stop it. It's over. The election is over."

'I WAS THERE'

The Axios report, citing two unnamed sources including one at the White House, said McCarthy countered the president's insistence "Antifa people" were responsible for Wednesday's riot, in which a Capital Police officer was killed along with four others as a large crowd forced its way into and vandalized the halls of Congress.

"It's not Antifa, it's MAGA," McCarthy was quoted as saying, using the acronym for the president's call to "Make America Great Again."

"I know," McCarthy reportedly continued, "I was there."

McCarthy and his aides did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Neither did the White House.

The reported exchanges may mean that, behind the congressman's public and politically costly support for Trump, the congressman is privately pushing the president to meet the national crisis in part by dropping some of his more contentious claims.

PRIVATE PRESSURE

McCarthy has twice recounted recent phone conversations with the president in which the congressman said he called for urgent action.

The first was around Christmas when, McCarthy told The Californian, he spent days trying to persuade the president to sign a bill extending federal unemployment benefits and offering individuals a $600 stimulus check. Trump was initially against it but ultimately signed the bill.

The other instance McCarthy recalled was during the riot, when he told CBS News he had asked the president "to talk to the nation to tell them to stop this."

One implication is that McCarthy has exceptional access to the president. By contrast, The New York Times reported Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — another Republican leader in Congress — has not spoken with Trump since mid-December.

McCarthy has said the Central Valley benefits from his close relationship with Trump. But there has been a political price to pay: Since the riot, which was followed hours later by McCarthy voting against certifying the results of the Electoral College, at least four members of the House have called for the congressman to resign.

Publicly, McCarthy has called the riot "unacceptable, undemocratic and unAmerican." Speaking on the floor of the House after the riot, he said members of Congress should work to solve the nation's problems through debate and to unite in "condemning the mob together."

SLIPPING LOYALTY?

Recent news reports raise questions about McCarthy's loyalty to Trump.

The Times reported McCarthy had asked fellow Republicans whether he should call on the president to resign in the aftermath of the riot.

The Times, citing three unidentified Republican officials briefed on the conversations, added that McCarthy and other party leaders have opted not to lobby fellow Republicans to vote against impeaching the president, even as the minority leader publicly opposes such a move.

Axios reported that during Monday's call with the president McCarthy specifically recommended Trump call and even meet with Biden, thereby following tradition, then leave a welcome letter for the president-elect on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office of the White House. Trump indicated he had not decided whether to leave such a letter, Axios wrote.

Trump said at a rally shortly before last week's riot he would "never concede" the election. The next day White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino posted on Twitter there will be an "orderly transition" at Biden's inauguration Jan. 20.

Several news organizations have reported McCarthy told House Republicans in a conference call Monday the president had acknowledged some responsibility for the riot.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf