- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he does not know if former President Donald Trump is the "strongest" Republican candidate to beat President Joe Biden in 2024.
- "Can he win that election? Yeah he can. The question is, is he the strongest to win the election? I don't know that answer," McCarthy, a Republican, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
- In a subsequent interview with a right wing website, McCarthy played damage control and offered more full-throated praise of Trump.
"Can he win that election? Yeah he can," McCarthy said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "The question is, is he the strongest to win the election?"
"I don't know that answer," McCarthy said.
"But can anybody beat Biden? Yeah, anybody can beat Biden. Can Biden beat other people? Yes, Biden can beat them. It's on any given day," he added.
The remarks on CNBC offered a rare lapse in McCarthy's usually firm posture of support for Trump. McCarthy leads a narrow House Republican majority that includes sizeable factions loyal to the former president.
Spokesmen for Trump and McCarthy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the speaker's remarks.
Trump is the clear frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary. National polls consistently show him outpacing his nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by hefty double-digit margins.
But Trump also lost to Biden in the 2020 election, was impeached twice, has spent years spreading false claims of widespread election fraud and has seen his latest White House bid rocked by two criminal indictments.
After the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which led to Trump's second impeachment in the House, McCarthy initially said Trump bore some responsibility. But the GOP House leader met with Trump shortly afterward, and has since been a consistent defender of the former president.
Trump endorsed McCarthy for speaker in January, urging skeptical Republicans to consolidate support around the California lawmaker.
On Friday, McCarthy said he supported a proposal to expunge both of Trump's impeachments.
In his Tuesday morning appearance on CNBC, McCarthy offered praise for Trump's agenda over the Democratic incumbent's.
If Trump is the nominee, then on "sheer policy to policy, it's not good for Republicans — it's good for America," McCarthy said. "Trump's policies are better, straightforward, than Biden's."
He acknowledged that Trump's legal exposure, from two criminal cases and multiple other active investigations, "makes it complicated."
In an interview later Tuesday with Breitbart News, McCarthy offered more full-throated praise of Trump, saying the former president "is stronger today than he was in 2016."
McCarthy accused news outlets of "attempting to drive a wedge between President Trump and House Republicans."
"The only reason Biden is using his weaponized federal government to go after President Trump is because he is Biden's strongest political opponent, as polling continues to show," McCarthy told Breitbart.