In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, the two top Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, told associates they believed President Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot and vowed to drive him from politics. Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: “I’ve had it with this guy,” he told a group of Republican leaders.
But within weeks both men backed off an all-out fight with Mr. Trump because they feared retribution from him and his political movement. Their drive to act faded fast as it became clear it would mean difficult votes that would put them at odds with most of their colleagues.
“I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference,” Mr. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, told a friend.
The confidential expressions of outrage from Mr. McCarthy and Mr. McConnell, which have not been previously reported, illustrate the immense gulf between what Republican leaders say privately about Mr. Trump and their public deference to a man whose hold on the party has gone virtually unchallenged for half a decade.
On Monday, Jan. 11, Mr. McConnell met over lunch in Kentucky
with two longtime advisers, Terry Carmack and Scott Jennings. Feasting on Chick-fil-A in Mr. Jennings’s Louisville office, the Senate Republican leader predicted Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise.
“The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us,” Mr. McConnell said, referring to the imminent impeachment vote in the House.
Once the House impeached Mr. Trump, it would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict him. That would require the votes of all 50 Democrats and at least 17 Republicans in the Senate — a tall order, given that Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2020 had ended with just one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voting in favor of conviction.
But Mr. McConnell knew the Senate math as well as anyone and he told his advisers he expected a robust bipartisan vote for conviction. After that, Congress could then bar Mr. Trump from ever holding public office again.
The president’s behavior on Jan. 6 had been utterly beyond the pale, Mr. McConnell said. “If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is,” he said.