A tense moment Wednesday during a House Republican leadership press conference highlighted the enduring divide over President Donald Trump and his role in the future of the party.
A reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was at the lectern, whether Trump should speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Orlando this weekend.
“Yes he should,” McCarthy said tersely.
House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was standing with the rest of leadership behind McCarthy, was asked the same question.
“That’s up to CPAC,” she said. “I’ve been clear in my views about President Trump and the extent to which following January 6, I don’t believe he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”
An awkward silence ensued for a few seconds, punctuated by a reporter’s cough.
“On that high note, thank y’all very much,” McCarthy said to laughter, ending the press conference.
Q: Do you believe former President Trump should speaking at CPAC?@GOPLeader: “Yes he should.”@RepLizCheney: “That’s up to CPAC….I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”
McCarthy: “On that high note, thank you very much.” pic.twitter.com/ZOkTUbpQCP
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 24, 2021
Trump is scheduled to speak on Sunday. He intends to talk about the future of the Republican party and “President Biden’s disastrous amnesty and border policies,” a source told Politico. Former Vice President Mike Pence reportedly declined the invitation, planning to stay under the radar for a few months. The event will be Trump’s first public appearance since leaving office.
The Trump-caused schism in the party has continued to rear its head in recent days, as the former President went after “dour, sullen, unsmiling” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a lengthy statement, also promising to flex his political muscle and endorse some primary challengers running in his own image.
“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First,” he wrote.
Trump doubled down on his critiques of his party during an interview on Newsmax last week.
“The Republicans are soft. They only hit their own, like Mitch,” he said. “If they spent the same time hitting Schumer and Biden, the Republicans would be much better off, that I can tell you.”
Unlike McConnell, McCarthy has been careful to court Trump, taking a trip down to Florida with the 2022 midterms likely front of mind.
Earlier in February, some anti-Trump Republicans convened to discuss the possibility of starting a new party, given Trump’s enduring ownership of the GOP. The former President’s influence was evident in the overwhelming Republican majority in the House and sizable one in the Senate who acquitted him during his second impeachment trial a couple weeks ago.