Kevin McCarthy (California politician)
Kevin Owen McCarthy (born January 26, 1965) is an American politician serving in the United States House of Representatives. A member of the Republican Party, he is the House Minority Leader, having previously served as House Majority Leader from August 2014 to January 2019. He has been the U.S. Representative for California’s 23rd congressional district since 2007. The 23rd district, numbered as the 22nd district from 2007 to 2013, is based in Bakersfield and includes large sections of Kern County and Tulare County, as well as part of the Quartz Hill neighborhood in northwest Los Angeles County.
He was formerly chairman of the California Young Republicans and the Young Republican National Federation. McCarthy worked as district director for U.S. Representative Bill Thomas, and in 2000 was elected as a trustee to the Kern Community College District. He then served in the California State Assembly from 2002 to 2006, the last two years as Minority Leader. When Thomas retired from the U.S. House in 2006, McCarthy ran to succeed him and won the election.
McCarthy was elected to House leadership as the Republican Chief Deputy Whip, from 2009 to 2011, and House Majority Whip, from 2011 until August 2014, when he was elected House Majority Leader to replace the outgoing Eric Cantor, who was defeated in his primary election. After announcing his candidacy for Speaker on September 28, 2015, he dropped out of the race on October 8 in favor of Paul Ryan.
When the Republicans lost their majority in the 2018 midterm elections, McCarthy was subsequently elected as House Minority Leader, making him the first California Republican to hold the post. McCarthy was also the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Speaker in 2019, losing the election to Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Californian.
Early life and education
McCarthy was born in Bakersfield, California, the son of Roberta Darlene (née Palladino; November 16, 1940–), a homemaker, and Owen McCarthy (June 12, 1941 – January 28, 2000), an assistant city fire chief. McCarthy is a fourth-generation resident of Kern County. He is the first Republican in his immediate family, as his parents were members of the Democratic Party. He attended California State University, Bakersfield, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in marketing in 1989 and a Master of Business Administration in 1994.
Early political career
McCarthy served on the staff of Congressman Bill Thomas from 1987 to 2002. In 1995, he was chairman of the California Young Republicans. From 1999 to 2001, he was chairman of the Young Republican National Federation. From the late 1990s until 2000, he was Thomas’s district director. McCarthy won his first election in 2000, as a Kern Community College District trustee.
U.S. House of Representatives
McCarthy entered the Republican primary for California’s 22nd District after his former boss, Bill Thomas, announced his retirement. He won the three-way Republican primary—the real contest in this heavily Republican district—with 85 percent of the vote. He then won the general election with 70.7% of the vote.
McCarthy was unopposed for a second term.
Redistricting before the 2012 election resulted in McCarthy’s district being renumbered as the 23rd District. It became somewhat more compact, losing its share of the Central Coast while picking up large parts of Tulare County. This district was as heavily Republican as its predecessor, and McCarthy won a fourth term with 73.2% of the vote vs. 26.8% for independent, No Party Preference (NPP) opponent, Terry Phillips.
In his bid for a fifth term, McCarthy faced a Democratic challenger for the first time since his initial run for the seat, Raul Garcia. However, McCarthy was reelected with 74.8% of the vote.
McCarthy won re-election to a sixth term in 2016 with 69.2% of the vote in the general election; the opposing candidate, Wendy Reed, Democratic Party candidate, received 30.8% of the vote.
McCarthy was reelected to a seventh term with 64.3 percent of the vote, with Democratic challenger Tatiana Matta receiving 35.7 percent of the vote.
After the Republicans lost their majority in the 2018 elections, McCarthy was elected as House Minority Leader, fending off a challenge to his right from Jim Jordan of Ohio, 159–43. While as House Majority Leader he was second-in-command to the Speaker, as Minority Leader he is the leader of the House Republicans.
- Committee on Financial Services
- House Republican steering committee
- House Republican chief deputy whip, 2009–2011
- House majority whip, 2011–2014
- House majority leader, 2014–2018
As a freshman congressman, McCarthy was appointed to the Republican steering committee. Republican leader John Boehner appointed him chairman of the Republican platform committee during the committee’s meetings in Minneapolis in August 2008, which produced the Republican Party Platform for 2008. He was also one of the three founding members of the GOP Young Guns Program.
After the 2008 elections, he was chosen as chief deputy minority whip, the highest-ranking appointed position in the House Republican Conference. His predecessor, Eric Cantor, was named minority whip. On November 17, 2010, he was selected by the House Republican Conference to be the House majority whip in the 112th Congress. In this post, he was the third-ranking House Republican, behind House speaker John Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor.
In August 2011, McCarthy and Cantor led a group of 30 Republican members of Congress to Israel, where some members took part in a late-night swim in the Sea of Galilee, including one member—Representative Kevin Yoder of Kansas—who swam nude. When McCarthy and Cantor later found out about the swim, they “were furious” and worried about negative news coverage, and “called a members-only meeting the next morning to reprimand the group – both those who swam and those who abstained.”
In 2012, McCarthy’s office reported spending $99,000 on pastries, bottled water, and other food items, making him the highest-spending member of the House in this category.
Cantor lost the June 2014 primary for his seat in Congress, and announced he would step down from House leadership at the end of July. McCarthy sought to succeed Cantor, and after some speculation that representatives Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling would challenge him, both dropped out leaving a clear path for McCarthy to become House majority leader. On June 13, representative Raul Labrador announced he would also seek the leadership position. On June 19, the Republican caucus elected McCarthy as majority leader.
According to the University of Minnesota‘s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, McCarthy is the least-tenured majority leader in the history of the House of Representatives. When he assumed the majority leadership position in July 2014, he had served only seven years, six months and 29 days, the least experience of any floor leader in the House’s history by more than a year.
McCarthy kept four of his predecessor’s staff members on his staff when he took over as majority leader, including deputy chief of staff Neil Bradley, who now has served in that role for three majority leaders.
McCarthy has been under fire for avoiding meetings and town-hall events with constituents in his congressional district for years. His last town hall was in June 2010. He has opted for screened telephone calls since.
In December 2017, McCarthy voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. After the vote, McCarthy asked his constituents to “Come February, check your check, because that will be the pay raise of the vote for Donald Trump.”
In May 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, McCarthy and House Republicans filed a lawsuit to stop the House of Representatives to allow remote voting by representatives . Remote voting was introduced to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Speaker of the House candidacy and withdrawal
On September 25, 2015, John Boehner announced his intention to resign as Speaker effective October 30, 2015. Many media outlets speculated that McCarthy would likely replace him, and Boehner himself stated that McCarthy “would make an excellent speaker.” He was the presumptive successor to the outgoing Speaker. On Monday, September 28, McCarthy formally announced his candidacy. Having held congressional office for less than nine years, McCarthy would have been the Speaker with the least time in Congress since 1891.
On October 8, 2015, as Republicans were preparing to vote, McCarthy unexpectedly dropped out of the race, saying that Republicans needed a fresh face who could unite the caucus and “I am not that guy.” He added that he would remain on as Majority Leader. He reportedly had concluded that he did not have the 218 votes that would be required to be elected Speaker. Previously, the late-Representative Walter B. Jones Jr. had sent a letter to the Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers stating that any candidates for a leadership position with “misdeeds” should withdraw from the race. Jones has stated that his comment did not specifically refer to McCarthy. It was widely seen as referring to rumors that McCarthy had been committing an extramarital affair with fellow Representative, Renee Ellmers, a rumor that both have denied; the basis for such an allegation and interpretation is unclear.
Comments on House Select Committee on Benghazi
In a September 29, 2015, interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, McCarthy was asked what the Republicans had accomplished in Congress. He replied by talking about the House of Representatives’ special panel investigation into the incident when Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012. Republicans said the purpose of the government-funded committee was purely to investigate the deaths of four Americans. But McCarthy said, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? 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.” Many media outlets and Democratic lawmakers interpreted this comment as an admission that the investigation was a partisan political undertaking rather than a substantive inquiry. Some commentators described his remark as a classic “Kinsley gaffe“, defined as when a politician accidentally tells the truth.
Several days later, McCarthy followed up on his comments and said that “Benghazi is not political. It was created for one purpose and one purpose only — to find the truth on behalf of the families of four dead Americans […] The integrity of Chairman Gowdy, the Committee, and the work they’ve accomplished is beyond reproach. The serious questions Secretary Clinton faces are due entirely to her own decision to put classified information at risk and endanger our national security […] I’ve been very clear about this. And don’t use politics to try to change this around. I could have been more clear in my description of what was going forward.”
In 2003, while minority leader in the state assembly, McCarthy “support[ed] most abortion rights, but oppose[d] spending tax dollars on abortions”. By 2015, however, McCarthy was a “staunch anti-abortion-rights advocate.” McCarthy is a supporter of the Hyde Amendment (a provision, annually renewed by Congress since 1976, that bans federal funds for abortion), and in 2011 co-sponsored a bill, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act“, to make the Hyde Amendment permanent. This bill was especially controversial because it provided an exemption for funding terminations of pregnancies caused by only “forcible rape”, which prompted abortion-rights activists to call the bill a redefinition of rape. McCarthy opposes a California state law that requires health insurance plans “to treat abortion coverage and maternity coverage neutrally and provide both”, believing that this law violates the Weldon Amendment and other federal laws. McCarthy received a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee, and a 0% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
After the 2018 mid-term elections, in which Democrats won a majority in the House, McCarthy said that Democrats should not investigate President Donald Trump. He described investigations of Trump as a “small agenda”, and that “America’s too great of a nation to have such a small agenda.” He said that Trump had already been investigated “for a long period of time.” McCarthy and other House Republicans investigated Hillary Clinton for years over the 2012 Benghazi attack. In 2015, McCarthy said that the investigation, which found no evidence of wrong-doing on Clinton’s part, had hurt poll numbers.
In 2019, McCarthy defended government officials spending money at resorts owned by President Trump. He said that there was no difference between government officials spending money at hotels owned by Trump and other hotels.
In October 2019, McCarthy said “there’s nothing that the president did wrong” in regards to President Trump requesting that the Ukrainian President start an investigation into 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. McCarthy added, “the President wasn’t investigating a campaign rival, the President was trying to get to the bottom, just as every American would want to know, why did we have this Russia hoax that actually started within Ukraine.”
That same month, when Trump said “China should start an investigation into the Bidens”, McCarthy shortly thereafter went on Fox & Friends to say, “You watch what the president said — he’s not saying China should investigate.”
McCarthy has been frequently at odds with environmental groups; the League of Conservation Voters has given him a lifetime score of 3%. McCarthy does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change. He was a major opponent of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas from coal-fired power plants. He has opposed regulations on methane leaks from fossil-fuel drilling facilities, characterizing them as “bureaucratic and unnecessary.'” In 2015, McCarthy opposed the U.S.’s involvement in global efforts to combat climate change; as the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference began, McCarthy announced that he would oppose an international agreement on climate change. In 2017, McCarthy led House Republican efforts to use the Congressional Review Act to undo a number of environmental regulations enacted during the Obama administration. While McCarthy once supported the federal wind-energy production tax credit, he opposed its extension in 2014.
In 2011, McCarthy was the primary author of the “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act” (H.R. 1581), legislation that would strip 60 million acres of public lands of protected status. Under the bill, protections for roadless and wilderness study areas would be eliminated, and vast swaths of land opened to new industrial development (such as logging, mineral extraction, and fossil fuel extraction). The bill was strongly criticized by conservationist groups and by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, who called it “the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws” that he had seen in his lifetime.
More recently, as House minority leader, McCarthy proposed several environmental bills designed to address climate change, which have been described as “narrow” and “modest”. They include provisions to extend a tax credit for carbon capture technologies, and to plant trees. Responses from Republican representatives were mixed. Conservative groups including the Club for Growth, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the American Energy Alliance opposed the measures, while others such as ClearPath supported them. McCarthy believes that younger voters are worried about climate change and cautioned that Republicans are risking their viability in elections over the long term by ignoring or denying the issue.
We’ve got to actually do something different than we’ve done to date [concerning climate change]. For a 28-year-old, the environment is the No. 1 and No. 2 issue.
On June 15, 2016, McCarthy told a group of Republicans, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God.” Paul Ryan reminded colleagues the meeting was off the record, saying, “No leaks. This is how we know we’re a real family here.” When asked about the comment, McCarthy’s spokesman said that “the idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.” After a tape of the comment was made public in May 2017, McCarthy claimed it was “a bad attempt at a joke”.
In 2019, McCarthy had threatened to take “action” against two new Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who have sharply criticized the Israeli government’s policies in the Palestinian territories and embraced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. McCarthy said that if Democrats “do not take action I think you’ll see action from myself.”
As House majority leader, McCarthy led efforts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). In March 2017, the House Republican repeal legislation, the American Health Care Act, was pulled from the floor minutes before a scheduled vote. Following changes made during an internal Republican debate, the bill narrowly passed the House, 217–213, in a May 2017 party-line vote. The House Republican leadership’s decision to hold a vote on the legislation before receiving a budget-impact analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office was controversial. The CBO subsequently issued a report estimating that the bill would cause 23 million Americans to lose health coverage, and would reduce the deficit by $119 billion over ten years. McCarthy and other House Republican leaders defended the legislation.
McCarthy opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which added perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities as protected classes under existing federal hate crimes law. He has voted against the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.
Throughout 2018, McCarthy opposed efforts to codify the legal status of DREAMers after Trump suspended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which provided temporary stay for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors. McCarthy opposed efforts to codify the DACA protection because he thought it would depress turnout among the Republican base in the upcoming 2018 midterms elections. According to Politico, it was thought a DACA-type bill could have also undermined McCarthy’s chances of becoming House Speaker after Paul Ryan retired from Congress, as it would have made it harder for McCarthy to attract the support of hard-line conservatives.
In July 2018, House Democrats called for a floor vote that sought to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). House GOP leaders scrapped the latter and called for the House to vote on a resolution authored by McCarthy and Clay Higgins to support ICE. House Speaker Paul Ryan‘s spokeswoman said Democrats “will now have the chance to stand with the majority of Americans who support ICE and vote for this resolution”, or otherwise follow “extreme voices on the far left calling for abolishment of an agency that protects us.”
In June 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, compared the holding centers for undocumented immigrants at the Mexico–United States border to “concentration camps”. McCarthy strongly criticized her words, saying they showed disrespect for Holocaust victims.
McCarthy was a supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which barred federal recognition of same-sex marriage and banned same-sex couples from receiving federal spousal benefits; after President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department not to defend the law in court, McCarthy supported House Republicans’ legal defense of the law. When the DOMA case reached the Supreme Court in 2013, McCarthy joined Boehner and Eric Cantor in signing a brief urging the Court to uphold the law.
McCarthy has a “D” rating from NORML regarding his voting record on cannabis-related matters. He voted against allowing veterans access to medical marijuana, if legal in their state, per their Veterans Health Administration doctor’s recommendation.
In August 2018, McCarthy co-signed a letter spearheaded by John Garamendi, Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson, calling for Trump to “send more federal aid to fight” the wildfires across the state of California. The letter, in effect requests a “major disaster declaration” across several counties affected by the fires; such a designation would “free up more federal relief” aimed at local governments and individuals affected.
McCarthy introduced the FORWARD Act in 2018, which “would provide $95 million in research funding for valley fever and other fungal diseases”. The bill provides $5 million for a “blockchain pilot program”, facilitating sharing data between doctors and scientists researching such diseases. It would also fund $8 million in matching grant money to be awarded every year for five years to local groups applying for research grants, as well as $10 million each year for five years to CARB-X, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services public-private partnership.
On October 23, 2018, McCarthy tweeted that Democratic donors businessman George Soros, businessman Tom Steyer and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, were trying to “buy” the upcoming election. McCarthy tweeted this a day after a pipe bomb was delivered to Soros’ home. Steyer said McCarthy’s tweet was a “straight-up antisemitic move” because the three Democrats are Jewish. A vandal threw rocks at McCarthy’s office and stole equipment from it, reportedly in reaction to McCarthy’s tweet. McCarthy later deleted the tweet.
Social media censorship
McCarthy claims that social media platforms, such as Twitter, are actively censoring conservative politicians and their supporters. He called on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify before Congress on the matter. On August 17, 2018, McCarthy submitted a tweet to suggest that conservatives were being censored by showing a screen capture of conservative commentator Laura Ingraham‘s Twitter account with a sensitive content warning on one of her tweets. This warning was due to McCarthy’s own Twitter settings rather than any censorship from the platform. He refused to acknowledge this fact. McCarthy also suggested that Google was biased against Republicans due to some of its short-lived vandalism of the English Wikipedia entry on the California Republican Party that was automatically indexed in the search results.
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- “California Scorecard – NORML.org – Working to Reform Marijuana Laws”. norml.org. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
- Lillis, Mike. “McCarthy joins push asking Trump for more wildfire aid in California”. The Hill. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
- Morgen, Sam. “McCarthy’s $95 million valley fever bill would boost research, drug development”. The Bakersfield Californian. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
- Rothkopf, David (October 28, 2018). “Trump Didn’t Pull the Trigger on Jews in Pittsburgh, but He Certainly Prepped the Shooter”. haaretz.com.
- Cole, Devan. “House majority leader deletes tweet saying Soros, Bloomberg, Steyer are trying to ‘buy’ election”. CNN. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
- “GOP presses ahead in casting Soros as threat amid criticism that attacks are anti-Semitic”. Washington Post. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
- Papenfuss, Mary (October 28, 2018). “Rep. Kevin McCarthy Deletes Tweet Singling Out 3 Jews Helping Bankroll Democrats”. Huffington Post. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
- Washington, Reuters in (October 28, 2018). “Tom Steyer accuses senior Republican Kevin McCarthy of antisemitism”. the Guardian. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
- “House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy deletes tweet saying George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg are buying this year’s elections”. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. October 24, 2018. Retrieved April 6, 2019.
- Kevin McCarthy [@GOPLeader] (August 16, 2018). “The American people deseve to learn more about the filtering and censorship practices on Twitter. It’s time for @jack to testify before Congress. #StopTheBias” (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Kevin McCarthy [@GOPLeader] (August 17, 2018). “Another day, another example of conservatives being censored on social media. @jack easy fix: explain to Congress what is going on. #StopTheBias cc @IngrahamAngle” (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Anapol, Avery (August 19, 2018). “GOP leader mocked for tweet complaining of conservative censorship on Twitter”. The Hill.
- Rupar, Aaron (September 12, 2018). “Fox News keeps letting GOP leader McCarthy go on TV and spout total nonsense about Google”. ThinkProgress.
- “Community Action Partnership of Kern”. Capk.org. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
- Congressman Kevin McCarthy official U.S. House website
- Republican Leader website
- Kevin McCarthy for Congress
- Kevin McCarthy at Curlie
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Legislation sponsored at the Library of Congress