Mark Meadows and Kevin McCarthy: Where do Republicans get these worms?

Mark Meadows and Kevin McCarthy (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

In politics, it's an axiom if not a flat-out rule that you should have, if not a soul, at least a brain. What, then, to make of a political party that elevates from its ranks to positions of power people who have neither? Dear readers, I give you Mark Meadows and Kevin McCarthy, two slithering dwellers of the political underground that has swallowed the entire Republican Party. 

Just for fun, let's begin our examination of the question of Meadows with the courageous Cassidy Hutchinson. You remember her, don't you? At 25 years of age, she was a White House aide and assistant to Meadows when he was Trump's chief of staff in the White House. Her name would have disappeared into the deep shadows of history like other minor White House officials had she not been called to testify before the Jan. 6 Committee last year and sat there before the committee and live television cameras and delivered what turned out to be earth shattering testimony about Trump's fight with the Secret Service agent driving his armored SUV, trying to get him to drive to the Capitol so Trump could join the riot that he had fomented. Hutchinson delivered a few other nuggets, like finding a broken plate and ketchup on the walls of the private presidential dining room after Bill Barr, Trump's attorney general, had told the Associated Press that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud large enough to change the outcome of the election. 

But it was Hutchinson's testimony, delivered in a flat, unemotional voice, about Meadows' inaction in the White House on Jan. 6 that was most chilling, at least to me. Here was Meadows, who served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, who rose to the powerful position of ranking member on the House Oversight Committee and chair of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus and caught the attention of Donald Trump, who appointed him to White House Chief of Staff. 

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Hutchinson described the day of Jan. 6 in the White House as calm after Trump returned from inciting the crowd with his speech on the Ellipse, just outside of the White House. Televisions were on in the Oval Office, the president's pocket dining room, and in the offices of Meadows and Tony Ornado, whom Trump had elevated from the head of his Secret Service detail to deputy chief of staff, with an office in the West Wing, the first time in history any member of the Secret Service had been appointed to a political job in the White House. 

Two miles away down Pennsylvania Avenue, the seat of the government of the United States was under assault by a mob that was beating police officers and breaking windows and invading the Capitol building and holding up the business of the government, which at that moment was certifying the electoral results of the 2020 election. As images of the bloody violence at the Capitol appeared on TV screens, Hutchinson found herself astonished at the lack of action in the White House. Trump was cloistered in his private dining room with the television on making phone calls.  Meadows, whom you would expect to be closely monitoring the assault on the Capitol, and, uh…let's see, doing something about it, was sequestered in his West Wing office, often in the company of Ornato, peering at the screen of his cell phone, according to Hutchinson. 

Look at these two guys. They were put into positions of power by a Republican Party – and a nominally Republican president – to do exactly this and only this: anything and everything they are told to do.

"She described an eerily nonchalant reaction by Meadows as he learned details of the escalating violence at the Capitol," Politico reported on the day of Hutchinson's Jan. 6 Committee testimony. "I remember distinctly Mark not looking up from his phone," Hutchinson told the committee and the stunned audience in the hearing room at the Capitol. 

Now, we have learned since that day that Mark Meadows had been very busy doing stuff in the weeks after Trump lost the presidential election in November. He arranged meetings Trump held with battleground state legislators, attempting to get them to help him overturn the results of the election in their states. He was on phone calls Trump made to state officials such as Rusty Bowers, the Arizona Speaker of the House, trying to convince him to do the same thing, and to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, when Trump asked to "find 11,780 votes" awarding him "one more than what we have" so he would be declared winner in Georgia and be entitled to its electoral votes. Meadows sat in on multiple Oval Office meetings when the fake electors plot was being hatched and put into action. Busy, busy, busy, was Mark Meadows.

But not on Jan. 6 when the shit hit the fan at the Capitol. He was staring at the screen of his cell phone in his office at the White House. When Hutchinson spoke to Meadows that day, asking him to talk to Trump about the violence at the Capitol, specifically mentioning the threats on Vice President Pence's life, Meadows calmly told her, referring to Trump, "He thinks Mike deserves it; he doesn't think they are doing anything wrong." Meadows did not get up from his desk chair in his office and walk down the West Wing hall to Trump's private dining room. He just sat there. Later, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone entered Meadows' office to tell him that rioters had breached the Capitol and were now inside, some of them in the Senate chamber. Hutchinson testified that Cipollone told Meadows, "Mark, something needs to be done or blood is going to be on your effing hands." Meadows sat there staring at his phone.

The other subterranean slitherer is, of course, the deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives – a brand new position – Kevin McCarthy. The actual Speaker of the House is either Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Greene, or perhaps some genetically engineered melding of the two House backbenchers who are now evidently running the House Republican Caucus, because so-called Speaker McCarthy sure isn't. He lost control of that body the night he signed an as-yet-to-be-acknowledged-much-less-revealed secret document yielding most of his powers as Speaker so he could win the votes necessary to attain that heretofore exalted position, with its grand office in the Capitol building overlooking the Mall. 

McCarthy somehow managed to make a deal on the budget with President Joe Biden that was intended to cap spending at 2022 levels and guarantee that there would be no chance of a government shutdown at the end of this month, thus infuriating the right-wing of his Republican Caucus in the House, and you know where that deal went, don't you? To the same ignominious underground bunker McCarthy has been occupying ever since he grabbed the gavel, and only the gavel, the night he sold what was left of his shriveled soul to Gaetz and Greene and the rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth members of the House Freedom Caucus. You will remember that exalted faction as the one Mark Meadows chaired for a year, affording himself enough of an illusion of power that Trump tapped him to be his final chief of staff.

Now McCarthy finds himself with just two weeks to go before the annual spending bills expire at the end of September, which will cause the U.S. government to shut down for only the fourth time in history if some sort of deal for a stopgap measure isn't reached, an eventuality that his budget deal with Biden was supposed to make moot.  What leverage does the Republican Speaker have with his out-of-control caucus? I don't know how to put this other than to form a rhetorical circle with my thumb and forefinger signaling a big fat goose egg.

Over the summer, the far-right fringe in the House generated a couple of letters to McCarthy setting the stage for what the New York Times this week called a "feud" with him, which is a gigantic misnomer. What's actually going on in McCarthy's House is cowardice-generated chaos. McCarthy's right-wing announced they wouldn't pass anything in the fall without a bevy of concessions from their so-called leader: huge spending cuts, a cut-off in aid to Ukraine, defunding the FBI and the Department of Justice (and the IRS, if you asked some of the leaders of the drooling caucus). They threatened to load up spending bills with culture war poison pill amendments that will never pass the Senate, and finally, they made clear their intention to shut down the government if their demands aren't met.

Oh, I almost forgot:  impeach Joe Biden. Did they attach any reasons for the demand to impeach Biden, and I'm not talking about evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors here, just reasons? 

For the answer to that question, look no further than any one of about a dozen statements from James Comer, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who ever since he took his committee gavel has been promising whistles that don't blow and witnesses who either don't exist or don't show up to testify about the alleged crimes of what Donald Trump likes to call "the Biden crime family." 

So where does that leave our cowering, quivering, quaking so-called Speaker McCarthy? Well let's hear one of the two Republicans who is actually running the House, Matt "I Can't Seem to Shake These Sex Charges" Gaetz: "If we have to begin every single day in Congress with the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate, then so be it," the Florida Republican announced this week. A motion to vacate the chair, if you have trouble remembering this arcane maneuver from the 14-hour struggle McCarthy endured to "earn" his Speakership, is, in effect, a vote to fire the Speaker of the House, made much easier in the Super Secret deal McCarthy made with Gaetz, among others, the night they voted to make him Speaker.

So, who's holding the reins of power on the House side of the Capitol these days? I'll answer that question with one that is more to the point: Where do Republicans come up with these worms? Look at these two guys. They were put into positions of power by a Republican Party – and a nominally Republican president – to do exactly this and only this:  anything and everything they are told to do. That's not leadership.  It's cowardice.


By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.