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13 Things You Might As Well Know About Kevin McCarthy, Since He's Gonna Be House Speaker

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 8/10/2015 Ryan Grim
ATHENA IMAGE © Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON - When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Wall Street) lost his primary campaign, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) immediately started banging the phones, wrangling support for Cantor's vacated position. By the time the conservative wing of the party got around to counting votes, McCarthy had it wrapped up. 

Once Boehner stepped down, McCarthy did the same thing. This time, thinking they had learned their lesson, the conservative wing put out a press release calling for the leadership elections to be slowed down so they could get their act together -- affirming the suspicion that they still have no idea how Congress works. 

The speakership elections were not delayed, and McCarthy wound up running essentially unopposed. (A guy from Utah jumped in at the last minute.)

As he burst on to the leadership scene, we put together a list of 11 things you might as well know about this new man you'll be hearing about on NPR. Now that he's becoming speaker, we've expanded to the more appropriate 13 things. Here's what you might as well know about soon-to-be-Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

1. Actually, you know him already.

Well, you probably don't know him personally, but you know this guy. He's been on the move since he could crawl, and likely asked his kindergarten classmates for their votes. By the mid-'90s, he was chairman of the California Young Republicans and then moved up to be chairman of the Young Republican National Federation. Meanwhile, he became a Bakersfield district director for Rep. Bill Thomas, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. From there, he ran to become "Trustee to the Kern Community College District."

2. Nobody dislikes him.

There isn't much to dislike about McCarthy, unless you're annoyed with empty ambition. After his thankless stint on the community college board, he ran in 2002 for California State Assembly and won. He immediately was elected assembly Republican leader -- a position that sounds important. So why'd they give it to a freshman? Assembly Democrats ran the floor with an iron fist and the job was as thankless as they come. Perfect for McCarthy. In 2006, he ran for Congress and won, where he's been running for internal positions since. He served as the whip, a brutally thankless job, from 2011 to 2014, before graduating to majority leader. 

3. Nobody likes him.

McCarthy is a likeable guy. But nobody really likes him. What's striking about talking to Republicans about McCarthy is how few are actual supporters, rather than people who would rather he have a job than somebody they like less. It's been working for him his entire political career, though, and politicians have been known to back all the way into the Oval Office. Find us a rabid supporter of George H.W. Bush if you think we're wrong. Being liked is overrated.

4. But sometimes he does the “right thing.”

McCarthy published a column for conservative Breitbart News last year, but pulled his piece after the site posted Photoshopped images of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s head on Miley Cyrus’ body, which was on all-fours. Spokesman Matt Sparks said McCarthy “didn’t condone” the “inappropriate" images, saying the congressman felt he did “the right thing” by asking for the column to be removed.


5. McCarthy won the lottery, and opened a deli with his winnings.

Before he turned 21, McCarthy won $5,000 in the California state lottery. He invested the prize in a sandwich shop, Kevin O's Deli, which he built with his father in their garage. McCarthy sold the deli in 1987. His undergrad degree is in marketing and he got an MBA, both at California State University, Bakersfield.

6. Actor Kevin Spacey shadowed McCarthy for his role in the Netflix series “House of Cards.”

Spacey plays Francis Underwood, a Democratic representative who for a time served as House majority whip and resorts to murder and extortion to have his way in Washington. The actor shadowed McCarthy on the Hill to prepare for the role, later telling ABC News that McCarthy was “very generous” to him. The two have become friends, or at least that's the impression in Washington. After watching McCarthy “harangue 218 congressman,” Spacey said he didn’t envy the position. Underwood's office, before he graduated to the Oval Office, was modeled after McCarthy's.


7. He's from Bakersfield, California.

Bakersfield is basically West Texas, but it's just outside Los Angeles, by some accident of geography.

 8. He won’t ever run for president, if he’s playing by his own rules.

McCarthy told MSNBC in November 2014 he didn’t think anyone should become president without serving as a governor first. If he stands by those comments, Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul shouldn’t expect his support, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fits the bill.

9. He helped supermodel Kate Upton celebrate her 21st birthday.

You read that right. McCarthy joined fellow Republican Rep. Fred Upton in wishing the latter’s niece a happy birthday, posting a photo of the three of them to his Instagram.

10. He's voiced support for amnesty!

Let's pretend for a second that Cantor's 2014 re-election loss actually had to do with his not-complete-opposition to immigration reform. It's a rich irony that McCarthy may be even more forgiving of those without papers than Cantor. He said it was his "personal belief" that a GOP immigration package ought to have a provision to allow someone sin papeles to obtain "legal status that will allow you to work and pay your taxes." Shhhhhh.

11. He's a movie nut, and has an awkward sense of what to show his team.

In 2011, McCarthy showed a scene from the movie "The Town" to motivate his colleagues during a House Republican Caucus meeting on the debt debate.

“I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people,” Ben Affleck says in the scene.

“Whose car are we gonna take?” Jeremy Renner replies.

According to GOP aides, then-Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) responded to the clip by saying, "I'm ready to drive the car."

The tea party attempt to "hurt some people" by defaulting on the national debt and throwing the global economy into a spiral failed, as a compromise was instead reached.

12. He's too honest.

Mitt Romney may have been undone by an impolitic, private remark, but McCarthy has managed to knife whoever becomes the GOP nominee with an impolitic, public remark. 

"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" McCarthy asked on Sean Hannity's show. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought."

Untrustable? Is that even a word? Either way, you can't use congressional resources for purely partisan activity. Or, at least, you can't do so and then admit on TV that you're doing it. And it wasn't even the first time he had confessed. 

"So that’s why, within a Select Committee—think of this, when you look at the poll numbers of Hillary Clinton, they’ve dropped; unfavorables – pretty high," he told Jake Tapper in not quite articulate, but clear enough language. "Would you ever have found that out had you not gathered the information from the Benghazi Select Committee?"

13. He's not that articulate.

George Bush, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have all shown that fluency with the english language is not necessarily a prerequisite for a leadership position. McCarthy's challenger for speaker, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), has gone directly at McCarthy's inarticulateness, if that's a word.

"You want a speaker who speaks. We need somebody who’s out there who is actually going out there and making the case to the American people, talking to the Senate about what we need to do, and going on the national television shows and winning that argument. We don’t seem to win the argument. And that’s a problem," Chaffetz said in a not terribly articulate fashion.

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