Ex-McCarthy staffer: GOP leader’s strategy dictated by ‘most extreme’ wings of party

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) listens to a question during his weekly press conference on Thursday, September 23, 2021.
Greg Nash

Ryan O’Toole, a former staffer to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and a current aide to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), said that the leadership strategy of his former boss “is dictated by the most extreme wings of his party.”

“When Marjorie Taylor Greene or Matt Gaetz put their thumb on the scale, that’s what he responds to, and that drives the House Republican Conference into the arms of somebody like Donald Trump,” O’Toole told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday. “And so the leadership that enables that behavior is continuing today, as we’ve seen.”

O’Toole, who said he was at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, said that McCarthy did not reach out to him or other staff members in the days following the violent attack.

“My recollection was that he did not — he didn’t engage with any of his staff. I didn’t — I didn’t get a chance to have any sort of debrief, and my understanding is that none of the McCarthy staff were able to connect with him regarding the day’s events, or how to respond to them frankly,” O’Toole said.

However, the former McCarthy staffer said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had stopped him and others to thank them for assisting lawmakers “and continuing the Democrat process that we were there for.”

“I’m stunned that Leader McCarthy didn’t reach out to his staff,” Tapper responded.

Matt Sparks, a spokesperson for McCarthy, rejected O’Toole’s account in a statement following the former aide’s remarks.

“McCarthy refused pleas from his security detail to leave his office until all of his staff and several other staff members from other offices that were sheltering in ours were guaranteed safe passage out of building,” Spark said. “They all escorted us through the tunnels to the Rayburn garage. Throughout the day McCarthy was in frequent contact [with] members of our staff.”

O’Toole seemed to suggest that the events following the Jan. 6 attack prompted him to leave his position on McCarthy’s team and work for someone who aligned better with his values.

“I can’t speak to why McCarthy’s changed his position since Jan. 6. As you alluded to, in the weeks after he came onto the floor and said the president bears responsibility for this,” O’Toole told Tapper. 

Some things “changed in his values. I can’t speak to what that might be in terms of what his calculus is — look, for me, after Jan. 6, my conscience and my values were clear: We need to be loyal to the Constitution, and I made a choice to leave and go work for somebody who did believe in that,” the former McCarthy staffer said.

“After Jan. 6, Kevin McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago, and I think that says things pretty clearly for the American people,” he added.

The interview comes on the one-year anniversary of the day a mob of supporters of former President Trump ransacked the Capitol and tried to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results. 

The Republican Party has grappled with how much responsibility to place on Trump for the events that unfolded that day, though many condemn the violence that took place.

Updated on Friday at 8:22 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Jake Tapper Jan 6 riot Jan. attack Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Marjorie Taylor Greene Matt Gaetz Nancy Pelosi Ryan O'Toole Steny Hoyer

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