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Kevin McCarthy defends remarks on leaked audio, telling Republicans foes trying to divide them

By Manu Raju, Melanie Zanona and Lauren Fox, CNN

At a closed-door Republican conference meeting Wednesday, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy gave a full-throated defense of his recently leaked comments where he expressed concern about far-right House Republicans inciting violence in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection.

The California Republican said Wednesday that the effort was all part of an attempt to divide the GOP conference ahead of the midterms, according to several sources at meeting. McCarthy got a standing ovation, the sources said.

McCarthy defended the remarks as saying they needed to discuss every scenario — and the tapes only included a portion of his comments and don’t have the full context. He also said that he doesn’t talk about GOP members publicly and only does in private — and if there are any problems, they should discuss the matter privately, according to the sources.

At the meeting, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz asked House GOP Whip Steve Scalise about Scalise’s taped comments that Gaetz’s incendiary January 6 remarks were “potentially illegal.”

Two sources said Scalise said he told Gaetz they were just speculating based on what law enforcement was saying then and based on his own personal experience after being shot on a baseball field.

Conservative Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia also both spoke during the meeting, but it wasn’t contentious, per a source in the room.

Perry emerged from the meeting telling reporters that the Democrats and media just want to use January 6 as a distraction.

Also at the meeting Wednesday, 15 GOP members pledged $1,850,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP campaign arm, as part of its efforts to take back the majority.

In the audio obtained and reported on by The New York Times on Tuesday, McCarthy repeatedly lamented the inflammatory comments made by some GOP lawmakers following the US Capitol attack.

On January 10, 2021, McCarthy urged Republican leaders on a private call to monitor the public statements of lawmakers, such as Gaetz and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, and alert him of any potentially dangerous messages.

“The country is too crazy,” McCarthy said, according to audio obtained by two New York Times reporters for their upcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future.”

“I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”

McCarthy did not respond to questions from reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday regarding The New York Times report. Asked if he was concerned it could hurt his chances of becoming speaker if Republicans win the House in the midterm elections, he said, “Nope.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.

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