Kevin McCarthy

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Kevin McCarthy (1965–) is the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, having served as a representative from California from 2007 to the end of 2023. He has represented a district that encompasses Bakersfield, a city commonly referred to as the armpit of California due to its geography frequently trapping air pollution.[1] After former House Speaker Paul Ryan resigned when Republicans were crushed in the 2018 midterm elections, he took over as the Republican minority leader and four years later would become House speaker after a protracted voting period. Overall, he's been very pro-Donald Trump and holds all of the stances that would imply; despite this, he's still not right-wing enough for some members of the Freedom Caucus. On 6 December 2023, he announced he would be resigning from the House by the end of the month.[2]

House tenure[edit]

Kevin McCarthy was first elected to the House in 2006, replacing a long-tenured incumbent he'd previously worked for. With a partisan index of R+16, his district is the most conservative in California; in the first election under the district's current boundaries, the GOP's gubernatorial candidate won almost 70% of the vote.[3][4] McCarthy had previously been minority leader of the California General Assembly, so he very easily managed to worm his way into John Boehner's leadership team, leapfrogging more senior members of the GOP Conference (For those who want to sound in the know, Republicans on Capitol Hill are a conference, while Democrats are a caucus. Make sure you show off your newfound knowledge this Thanksgiving!). He also co-founded the Young Guns program with Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, which helped elect young Republicans in open-seat and Democratic-held swing districts. In 2009 he became Chief Deputy Minority Whip, one of the conference's highest ranking positions. When Republicans retook the House majority, he was promoted to House Majority Whip, the #3 position in the House (after the Speaker and Majority Leader. Remember that.).

Everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked Tea Party came to power. McCarthy was one of the first to realize that Republicans could co-opt their anger back into power, so he encouraged their rise. One of them managed to primary Eric Cantor, who was then House Majority Leader, in one of the biggest upsets in recent political memory, despite being outspent 5-1. Rather than be a lame duck, Cantor resigned a few months later and cashed out by joining the board of directors at an investment bank (never feel sorry for a member of Congress who loses their seat. They'll have no problems paying their bills). The loss of a young gun and the new vacancy allowed McCarthy to once again rise one step in the House ranks, as he became House Majority leader in 2014 despite being the least tenured House party leader of all time, so as you can tell, he was already off to a great start.[5]

About a year later, it looked like McCarthy's speakership was inevitable when the Tea Party Republicans (who started calling themselves the "Freedom Caucus" once they started getting elected to Congress) proved to be such a headache for Speaker Boehner that he announced his resignation from Congress. A few days later, however, he made a major gaffe when he basically admitted on Fox News that the Benghazi investigation was politically motivated against Hillary Clinton, which jeopardized his chances of becoming the speaker of the House at that time.[6] Oops. Shortly before rumors of an extramarital affair became public, McCarthy announced he wouldn't run for Speaker after all. The burden honor of leading an increasingly ungovernable conference fell to fellow young gun and 2012 failed Vice-Presidential candidate Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, so at least the two remaining young guns were still in the top two positions in House leadership. Once Donald Trump became president, McCarthy was fully supportive of him. However, the same people that ran Boehner out of town (and the fact that Republicans were on a one way ticket to losing a majority they'd held for eight years thanks to Trump's unpopularity) proved to be such a headache for Paul Ryan that he retired from Congress (and took his golden parachute in the form of joining the Fox News board), leaving McCarthy to become Minority Leader once Democrats flipped the House. As Minority Leader, McCarthy continued his support for Trump and defended him during his first impeachment.[7] He supported Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election,[8] and while he was initially critical of Trump over the 2021 U.S. coup attempt, he quickly fell in line.[9]

Speaker (at last)[edit]

Heading into the 2022 midterms, Republicans were favored to win big.[note 1] However, the party's loyalty to Trump and celebration of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade meant that Democrats could make a very strong case about the dangers of Republican extremism, so they did. Predictions of a 2010 style "Red Wave" failed to materialize, as Republicans only picked up nine seats in the House (and lost a Senate seat), leaving McCarthy with an incredibly narrow majority where the extreme right held outsized influence and the desire to use it. After 15 ballots (the most for a speaker since before the American Civil War) and making all sorts of concessions to the extreme right-wing members of his narrow majority, he was finally elected as speaker of the House in 2023.[11] One of those concessions was that any individual Republican member could call for a motion to vacate the chair, a rule that Nancy Pelosi had removed in 2019 to keep members of her caucus from trying the same thing with her.

That was quick.[edit]

Sure enough, the concessions came back to bite him and he would be ousted by a vote in October of that year after pissing off the extreme-right members of his party during budget negotiations by working with Democrats to pass a bill to keep the government open for a few more weeks. Almost immediately, his hard right opponents began threatening a motion to vacate. The day after scoring a bipartisan win, he went on the Sunday morning news shows and blamed those same Democrats for trying to block the bill from passing. Matt Gaetz filed the motion and it passed, with eight Republicans joining all of the Democrats (who were incredibly pissed about being blamed for a near-shutdown when they were the ones who stopped a shutdown from happening) to remove him, making him the first Speaker to be ousted in this way.[12] Though it was initially reported that McCarthy would once again seek the Speaker's gavel, he chose not to run again.[13] The last young gun had fallen. It remains to be seen what McCarthy's golden parachute will turn out to be. Maybe a board seat for a major defense contractor? Lobbying? Punditry? Only time will tell. Either way, Republicans took three weeks to elect a new Speaker to replace him, meaning a long-term funding bill couldn't be passed and new foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel (which managed to get itself into a genocidal war with Hamas in the meantime) couldn't be approved. A long term funding bill and foreign aid still have not been passed under the new Speaker, meaning Republicans kicked all their problems down the road and will eventually find themselves back at square one.

As Speaker, McCarthy decided to hand over thousands of hours of footage of the 2021 U.S. coup attempt to none other than Tucker Carlson.[14]

On 25 October 2023, Louisiana politician Mike Johnson succeeded McCarthy as Speaker.[15]

Stances[edit]

They are basically what you'd expect from a right-wing Republican. He was a supporter of DOMA while voting against the more recent Respect for Marriage Act that would codify the federal legality of same-sex marriage.[16] He opposes abortion[17] and is a climate change denier.[18] Additionally, he has taken a page from Jack Thompson's book and has blamed mass shootings on video games.[19]

Notes[edit]

  1. Money from billionaire donors like Peter Thiel, who donated to McCarthy's 2022 bid among others, couldn't have hurt.[10]

References[edit]

  1. Armpit of California Urban Dictionary.
  2. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the ousted speaker, announces he’s leaving Congress, Scott Wong and Sahil Kapur, NBC 6 December 2023
  3. https://www.cookpolitical.com/cook-pvi/2022-partisan-voting-index/district-map-and-list
  4. https://elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov/sov/2022-general/ssov/governor-congressional.pdf
  5. Kevin McCarthy Is The Least Tenured House Majority Leader Ever, Igor Bobic, The Huffington Post 20 June 2014
  6. Kevin McCarthy Admits Benghazi Comment Was A Gaffe, Michael McAuliff, The Huffington Post 7 October 2015
  7. Kevin McCarthy fails on basic facts of Trump’s Ukraine call in disastrous "60 Minutes" interview, Igor Derysh, Salon 30 September 2019
  8. Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy backs Texas' long-shot Supreme Court bid to overturn Biden wins, Kevin Breuninger, CNBC 11 December 2022
  9. Do you remember who Kevin McCarthy was two years ago?, Lisa Rubin, MSNBC 6 January 2023
  10. Ryan Mac and Lisa Lerer (February 14, 2022). "The Right’s Would-Be Kingmaker". The New York Times.
  11. 4 deals Kevin McCarthy made to become speaker, explained, Kwasi Giamfi Asiedu and Jon Healy, Los Angeles Times 9 January 2023
  12. House ousts McCarthy as speaker in historic vote, Clare Foran, Melanie Zanona, Haley Talbot and Kristin Wilson, CNN 3 October 2023
  13. https://www.politico.com/live-updates/2023/10/03/congress/mccarthy-is-out-00119797
  14. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/feb/23/kevin-mccarthy-tucker-carlson-jan-6-tapes
  15. https://www.wafb.com/2023/10/25/two-time-lsu-alumnus-rep-mike-johnson-elected-house-speaker/
  16. Kevin McCarthy, LGBTQ Rights Opponent, Elected House Speaker, Jon Riley, Metro Weekly 7 January 2023
  17. ‘Our work is far from done': McCarthy suggests GOP will propose anti-abortion legislation if they retake House, Justin Tasolides, NY1 24 June 2022
  18. Meet the Republicans in Congress who don't believe climate change is real, Tom McCarthy, The Guardian 17 November 2014
  19. Kevin McCarthy Suggests Video Games To Blame In Wake Of El Paso, Dayton Shootings, Igor Bobic, Huffington Post 4 August 2019