McCarthy’s free speech problem inside GOP: The Note

Every vote for leader matters, and he has no shortage of ambitious colleagues.

April 27, 2022, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

There's probably never a good time for audio to emerge of a party leader musing about whether some of his colleagues should be banned from social media platforms.

Even so, this is a particularly awkward time for House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy's colleagues to learn what he had to say about some of the firebrands in his conference in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

"Can't they take their Twitter accounts away, too?" McCarthy asked members of his leadership team in audio obtained by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns for their forthcoming book, "This Will Not Pass."

It was McCarthy reflecting a widespread view at a tenuous time, when the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., were tossing off potentially inflammatory observations in the hours and days after the insurrection.

PHOTO: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, April 6, 2022.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, April 6, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

That is decidedly not the view of McCarthy's conference now. Just hours before Martin and Burns released the audio, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was weighing on his podcast whether it was "disqualifying" for a party leader to call for a Twitter ban on a colleague; Boebert, his guest, labeled it "a complete violation of our freedom of speech."

The new book is coming out at the very moment that Twitter is being acquired by Elon Musk, who views his mission as bringing more "free speech" to the platform. Musk was critical of Twitter acting as the "de facto arbiter of free speech" by banning Trump after the events of Jan. 6.

As McCarthy himself knows better than most, every vote for leader matters, and he has no shortage of ambitious colleagues who are ready to block his path to the speakership.

McCarthy's problem now is that issues of "de-platforming" and perceived anti-conservative bias in social media are broader than the Greene-Gohmert-Boebert wing of the GOP. What he said and thought last January could matter greatly after this November.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

A meeting between President Joe Biden and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has reignited the possibility of executive actions to address student loans.

Sources tell ABC News' Mariam Khan that Biden was "very receptive" to such suggestions and said multiple times that he was prepared to extend the loan repayment moratorium and potentially issue executive actions to cancel a portion of borrowers' student loan debt.

PHOTO: Rep. Raul Ruiz(C), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, speaks alongside other members outside of the West Wing after a meeting with President Joe Biden, April 25, 2022.
Rep. Raul Ruiz(C), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, speaks alongside other members outside of the West Wing after a meeting with President Joe Biden, April 25, 2022.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Earlier this month, the Biden administration extended the pause on payments through Aug. 31 with interest remaining at 0% until then. Payments that were supposed to resume in May will now start up just a couple of months before the high-stakes midterm elections.

Progressives have urged Biden to cancel varying amounts of student loan debt and others have called for the administration to cancel student loan debt altogether. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden is thinking about how to move forward on the issue and would decide before the pause on payments ends.

Psaki said the president "is looking at other executive authority options he has to bring relief to people who have student loans."

On the campaign trail, Biden had called for canceling up to $10,000 per borrower. He has yet to fulfill that promise.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

One of the nation's most closely watched congressional primaries is increasingly serving as a microcosm of intraparty Democratic divisions. Incumbent moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas is just weeks away from a second faceoff this year with progressive immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros in the May 24 runoff election.

On Tuesday, Cuellar's campaign announced House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn would be campaigning for the vulnerable congressman next week. In 2021, Clyburn similarly rallied behind Shontel Brown in Ohio's 11th Congressional District, which Brown won during an equally divisive primary season for Democrats. Meanwhile, Cisneros boasts endorsements from progressive heavyweights like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

PHOTO: Rep. Henry Cuellar attends a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 30, 2021.
Rep. Henry Cuellar attends a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 30, 2021.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Beyond symbolic backings, Cuellar and Cisneros are in national political crosshairs over Title 42 -- a major wedge issue between Democratic lawmakers. Cuellar -- who has a history of backing some conservative policies -- was one of two Latino lawmakers from Texas border districts to call on the Biden administration to keep the Trump-era policy in place.

In a recent interview on Fox News, Cuellar said the administration is giving too much attention to "immigration activists" while sending "mixed messages" to the public regarding pandemic health. Cuellar's early public opposition to the Biden administration's move on a major immigration policy is likely to add to progressive characterizations of him being "the most conservative Democrat" in Congress, but it remains to be seen whether voters echo that sentiment.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

11.7. That number represents the millions of Americans lifted out of poverty in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, thanks in large part to the stimulus payments. But as FiveThirtyEight's Santul Nerkar and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux write, one unintended consequence of that stimulus was inflation. Read more from Santul and Amelia on why politicians are likely to take away the wrong lessons.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here begins Wednesday morning with ABC's Anne Flaherty on the White House push to increase the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 treatment. Then, ABC's Kirit Radia details the latest from Ukraine. And, ABC's Devin Dwyer explains the Supreme Court hearing on the 'Remain in Mexico' repeal case. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

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