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Republicans face a new reckoning over what GOP House leader McCarthy said about Trump

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 18: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) talks to reporters during his weekly news conference in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on March 18, 2022 in Washington, DC. McCarthy blamed Democrats for national and state policies that he said hinder domestic energy production, which results in more opportunities for Russia to sell its oil and natural gas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said earlier Thursday that reports that he said former President Trump should resign in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol were false. Then the reporters who broke the news played the tapes.

The Republican Party is facing a new moment of reckoning tied to its top leaders and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

It follows the release of two private audio conversations involving House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, including a new tape in which he claims Trump admitted some responsibility for the insurrection.

"I've been very clear to the president: He bears responsibility for his words and actions, no ifs ands or buts," McCarthy is heard telling the House Republican conference in a Jan. 11, 2021 call. "I asked him personally today does he hold responsibility for what happened? Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened ... And he needs to acknowledge that."

That tape was released on Friday as part of a book tour for New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, who have shared new details about the Republican ire that played out behind closed doors soon after the siege.

A day earlier, Martin and Burns shared another McCarthy tape from a Jan. 10, 2021 House Republican leadership call. Before the audio was released late Thursday, McCarthy had denied he recommended Trump resign during that call. However, the tape exposed that was a lie.

But that lie might not mean much to McCarthy's hopes to be the next House speaker if Republicans win control of the chamber next year.

While McCarthy faces a tricky conversation with his conference, which could come when the House returns from a 2-week recess next week, the ultimate judge is likely Trump. For now, many of the revelations exposed in the calls mimic concerns McCarthy shared publicly in the early days after the attack.

And while such new details upend the stories that Republicans have told about the siege or Trump's role in it since, their members often return to their central mantra, which is unwavering loyalty to Trump.

A long list of GOP leaders and other members were clearly furious after the attack, including McCarthy, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, but they and others returned to the fold soon after.

And while members of GOP leadership have remained largely quiet in the wake of the McCarthy tapes, rank and file members offered a mixed view. For example, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz accused GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republican members on the House select Jan. 6 committee, of leaking the tape to the New York Times and told McCarthy that he should have listened to him.

But South Carolina's Nancy Mace, who is facing a tough re-election fight, shared her early support for McCarthy in an appearance on Fox Business on Friday.

"Water under the bridge," Mace said. "This is kind of, I don't think a story that's going anywhere, but I support him wholeheartedly." Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.