The Riggs Report: Speakerizing California
Kevin McCarthy could become 2nd House speaker from Golden State
Kevin McCarthy wasn’t in Sacramento long. He represented a Bakersfield district in the Assembly from 2002 to 2006, the last two years of that tenure as Republican leader in the lower house, before an open seat in Congress beckoned.
What I remember about McCarthy, from my coverage of the Legislature during that period, was an easygoing, smiling demeanor, but someone who was always on the move through the Capitol hallways.
McCarthy plainly liked people, and they liked him back. His time in Sacramento was focused more on party leadership than on drafting big legislation or crafting significant deals. It was about protecting Republican seats and looking for opportunities to grow the party’s strength under the dome.
When McCarthy headed to Washington, D.C. in 2007 to fill the seat of his retiring mentor, Bill Thomas, that same model held. He immersed himself in the inside game of party leadership, elected two years later as chief deputy whip, and two years after that as House majority whip before ascending to the post of House majority leader in June 2014.
McCarthy has been a prodigious fundraiser and energetic campaigner known for mastering the political makeup of congressional districts around the country. He’s raised and given millions of dollars to Republican candidates in recent years.
In the process, McCarthy has rolled up a lot of loyalty points. That loyalty, and sense of obligation from members, helps to explain why McCarthy has managed to take most of the drama out of the speakership change since John Boehner announced he was stepping down last week.
Historically, having a Californian assume the House speaker’s job is both significant and rare. McCarthy would be only the second Californian to achieve the post, which is second in the line of constitutional succession to the presidency.
The first was Nancy Pelosi, who became Speaker in 2007 and held the job until the Republicans staged a comeback in the 2010 elections.
One big difference—Pelosi was able to preside over a relatively unified Democratic caucus that, among other things, successfully opposed President Bush’s Social Security reform plan.
Should McCarthy become speaker, he won’t have that same experience.
The Freedom Caucus, made up of Tea Party Republicans who confronted and confounded Speaker Boehner, don’t have a candidate who can win.
Despite McCarthy’s relative popularity, the conservatives can be expected to challenge his manner in the same way. In their view, compromise is equal to defeat.
During his rise to power as an insider, McCarthy has largely avoided being mired in ideological battles within the party.
As speaker, McCarthy would no longer be able to avoid that. His first big test in December would be the same one that led to the departure of Boehner—a fight over whether to shut down the federal government in a standoff over Planned Parenthood funding.