WASHINGTON — Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, on Tuesday disavowed one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists, but declined to criticize former President Donald J. Trump directly for dining with the man last week at his private club in Florida.
Mr. McCarthy had been silent for days on Mr. Trump’s decision to have dinner with Nick Fuentes, the racist Holocaust denier who leads the white nationalist movement America First, and Kanye West, the artist and provocateur who has also made antisemitic comments.
Pressed about the dinner by reporters on Tuesday as he left a meeting at the White House, Mr. McCarthy criticized Mr. Fuentes and comments made by Mr. West, but stopped short of condemning Mr. Trump for meeting with them.
“I condemn his ideology; it has no place in society at all,” Mr. McCarthy said of Mr. Fuentes.
“The president can have meetings with who he wants; I don’t think anybody, though, should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes,” Mr. McCarthy said later. “And his views shouldn’t — are nowhere within the Republican Party or within this country itself.”
He then falsely claimed that Mr. Trump had condemned Mr. Fuentes “four times”; the former president has never done so. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that he did not know who Mr. Fuentes was, but has not denounced his views or statements, which include unabashed racism and antisemitism.
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“The president didn’t know who he was,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Asked whether it was appropriate for Mr. Trump to dine with Mr. West given the artist’s antisemitic remarks, Mr. McCarthy told reporters, “I don’t think those are right comments, and I don’t think he should have associated with them.”
The comments reflected Mr. McCarthy’s reluctance to offer a full-throated condemnation of members of his party who have ties to right-wing extremists, particularly at a time when he is facing a revolt on his right flank that has imperiled his campaign to become speaker.
It was far from the first time Mr. McCarthy has struggled to address the extremism problem in the Republican ranks, especially around Mr. Fuentes, who marched at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 and outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He has also warned that the nation is losing “its white demographic core.”
In February, after Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona appeared at Mr. Fuentes’s annual white supremacist gathering, Mr. McCarthy issued a rare public rebuke of the pair, calling their behavior “appalling and wrong.”
“The party should not be associated any time, any place with somebody who is antisemitic,” Mr. McCarthy said at the time, calling Ms. Greene’s failure to leave the stage after Mr. Fuentes praised Adolf Hitler “unacceptable.”
Neither Ms. Greene nor Mr. Gosar received any punishment, and Ms. Greene has boasted that Mr. McCarthy, whom she is supporting for speaker, will give her a powerful role in the new Congress. Mr. Gosar had previously attended the America First conference as its keynote speaker and wrote to the F.B.I. on his official letterhead claiming that Mr. Fuentes had been placed on a no-fly list and protesting the alleged action.
Asked on Tuesday at the White House about the lawmakers in his conference with ties to Mr. Fuentes, including Ms. Greene, Mr. McCarthy said, “She denounced him.”
Ms. Greene has never publicly done so. Days after she spoke at Mr. Fuentes’s conference, she told CBS News: “I do not know Nick Fuentes. I have never heard him speak. I have never seen a video. I do not know what his views are, so I am not aligned with anything that is controversial.”
In a later statement, Ms. Greene said she was being attacked by “the Pharisees in the Republican Party for being willing to break barriers and speak to a lost generation of young people who are desperate for love and leadership.” That was an apparent reference to an ancient group of Jewish leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites.