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Pressure on McCarthy forces reckoning over Trump: The Note

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The TAKE with Rick Klein

There is no escaping the contradictions.

The private and public versions of what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said about the attack on the Capitol at the time and what he would say later did not and do not match up. Those questions loom over McCarthy’s desire to become the next House speaker — and will be shaped by former President Donald Trump’s insistence on continuing to litigate the past.

The Jan. 6 committee now wants McCarthy’s “voluntary cooperation,” in a move that was long expected but has significant implications on the investigation as well as internal GOP politics. The Republican leader, who holds his weekly news conference on Thursday, has ducked most direct questions about what he and Trump discussed in real time.

According to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., McCarthy told her Trump blamed antifa agitators for the Capitol attack and responded, when told they were Trump supporters, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

In his book “Betrayal,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl recounts McCarthy imploring Trump to call off the attackers in the midst of the evacuation of House leaders, only to get a response that built on the false allegation that the election was stolen: “They are more upset than you because they believe it more than you, Kevin.”

The committee’s letter to McCarthy cites other reports that could lead in different directions. The letter asserts that McCarthy “may have also discussed” with Trump the possibility that he would resign, be impeached or censured, or that he could be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.

In recent days, Trump’s attack on Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., served as a reminder that the former president is intent on keeping alive the fiction that the election was stolen.

McCarthy has said “I wouldn’t hide from anything” when it comes to answering questions about Jan. 6, though he said in a statement Wednesday night he would not be cooperating with the committee. In any event, there remain questions for which he has no apparent good answers.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

Fresh off his fiery address on voting rights in Georgia, President Biden is now doing the work that civil rights activists, including those who intentionally snubbed his trip, wanted him to do — putting pressure on lawmakers in Washington to pass voting reforms.

Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, is trekking back to his old haunt Thursday to meet with Senate Democrats to push for a rule change that would allow for the passage of voting reform legislation and “make the institution work again,” according to a White House official.

Biden’s visit to Capitol Hill comes a day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Biden’s remarks on voting rights as “profoundly unpresidential.” It also comes just days before Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day deadline to vote on the legislation and challenge filibuster rules.

In addition to Thursday’s visit with the Senate Democratic caucus, a White House official told ABC News that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will be “working the phones over the next several days pushing members of the Senate to support voting rights legislation and changes to Senate rules.”

With Democratic holdouts opposed to a Senate rule change to avoid the filibuster, as well as continued Republican obstruction, the chances of passage are slim.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

If Trump’s looming presence over the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary wasn’t evident before, it was cemented on Wednesday night when the first GOP debate of the state’s primary season opened with a prerecorded video from the former president.

Unsurprisingly, Trump took the opportunity to push “big lie” claims of winning the state that landed Biden the presidency, while specifying that “it’s something that I contest and will continue to contest it.” Trump has yet to make an endorsement in the race, and it remains to be seen how candidates navigate discussing his priority topic on the campaign trail.

For now, candidates seem to prefer talking about other issues. Their opening pitches throughout Wednesday’s debate — which was sponsored by the Lawrence County Republican Committee — focused on issues ranging from the economy, energy and production, to crime, vaccine mandates and international relations, rather than relitigating the last election.

However, some of the top spenders in the race were absent from the debate stage. Dr. Mehmet Oz’s campaign told ABC News he was not participating “due to a previous schedule commitment.” Hedge fund CEO David McCormick formally filed paperwork to run as a Republican on Wednesday but did not participate in the debate. Former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands was also absent.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News’ “Start Here” Podcast. Start Here begins Thursday morning with the latest on inflation from ABC’s Rebecca Jarvis. Then, we talk to ABC’s James Longman about the sex abuse lawsuit against Prince Andrew. And, we’ll break down both sides of the voting rights debate with FiveThirtyEight’s Kaleigh Rogers. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Joe Biden gives an update on his administration’s “whole-of-government COVID-19 surge response,” at 10:30 a.m., with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell in attendance. The president then meets with the Senate Democratic Caucus on Capitol Hill at 1 p.m. to discuss passing voting rights legislation.
  • U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and White House press secretary Jen Psaki hold a press briefing at 3 p.m.
  • The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs examines the nominations of Lael Brainard to be vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Sandra Thompson to be director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency at 10 a.m.
  • Download the ABC News app and select “The Note” as an item of interest to receive the day’s sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day’s top stories in politics. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.