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Opinion A tale of two Republicans: One brave, one not

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) talks to reporters on April 6 as the House voted to hold former president Donald Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress over their months-long refusal to comply with subpoenas from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers (R) was named Thursday as one of this year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for resisting intimidation by Donald Trump and enduring harassment from his own party for backing the outcome of his state’s elections in 2020.

By coincidence, audio emerged the same day of U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying in the aftermath of Jan. 6, 2021, that he would push Trump to resign. “I’ve had it with this guy,” McCarthy said, adding that the then-president’s incitement of the mob was “atrocious and totally wrong.” Before the month was over, McCarthy flew to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring.

As much as Bowers merits a badge of courage, McCarthy deserves the opposite. Bowers’s principled stand, despite efforts to depose and recall him, makes McCarthy’s speedy capitulation look all the more craven.

Bowers, 69, campaigned in 2020 for Trump, who gave him shout-outs at multiple rallies. But the former president lost Arizona by 10,457 votes. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, Trump and Rudy Giuliani called Bowers to ask him to block his legislature from formalizing the results. He told the men he wouldn’t violate his oath of office.

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Bowers received more than 20,000 emails and 10,000 voice mails every day after standing up to Trump. Armed protesters gathered outside his house and screamed that he was a pedophile.

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Bowers held firm. Two days before Jan. 6, he took a call from John Eastman, who identified himself as a lawyer for Trump and wanted the legislature to replace the electors chosen by voters with an alternative slate that would back Trump. Later, Bowers refused to go along when state Senate President Karen Fann (R) authorized a review of ballots by Cyber Ninjas, a wild-goose chase that made Arizona a national joke but found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Pressure on Bowers has continued into 2022. In February, Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn called Bowers to push for a bill that would set aside the 2020 election results from three Arizona counties: Maricopa, Pima and Yuma. That plan was introduced by an official who has Trump’s endorsement for secretary of state, the office that oversees Arizona elections. Last month, Bowers killed a measure that would have split Maricopa County — the state’s largest and home to Phoenix — into quarters. The brazen ploy to dilute Democrats’ votes was introduced by a state lawmaker who was part of the phony slate of Trump electors unveiled before Jan. 6.

McCarthy, by contrast, played along with Trump’s false claims of fraud. He endorsed the meritless lawsuit filed by Texas that sought to get the Supreme Court to invalidate millions of votes. On the night of the insurrection, along with a majority of the House GOP conference, McCarthy voted to reject the results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, which would have disenfranchised the voters in those states.

This isn’t the first time McCarthy has been caught on tape saying something injudicious. A month before Trump clinched the party’s nomination in 2016, after meeting with Ukraine’s prime minister, McCarthy told House Republicans that he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin had Trump and then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) on his payroll. “Swear to God,” McCarthy said.

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The minority leader’s latest incendiary comments about Trump come from a forthcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future,” by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin. After McCarthy and his spokesperson categorically denied that he said what he said, the two New York Times reporters published the tape. On Friday, Burns and Martin released more audio, from another call, in which McCarthy told House Republicans that Trump privately acknowledged to him that he bore some responsibility for what happened on Jan. 6. That might prove pivotal — if McCarthy is called to testify under oath.

But McCarthy has refused to cooperate with the Jan. 6 panel’s requests for an interview and documents. (Two staffers from the committee flew to Phoenix in November to interview Bowers, who talked with them voluntarily for more than an hour.)

McCarthy’s pathetic stooping and bending is a good measure of how much control Trump still exerts over the party. The two men spoke Thursday night and have a meeting scheduled for early next month.

Meanwhile, Bowers remains a target of Trump die-hards. Term limits mean he cannot seek reelection to Arizona’s House, so he’s running for state Senate in a red district where no Democrat has filed to appear on the ballot. Bowers faces a competitive August primary against former legislator David Farnsworth, who says he’s “100 percent” confident the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. “I don’t want to be bullied out of service,” Bowers says.

McCarthy is a hack with his finger in the wind, willing to nullify a free and fair election to gain political advantage. Bowers is a patriot who put his finger in the dyke to save our democracy. Which man will voters reward for their instincts?