The ambitious career of Kevin McCarthy, GOP frontrunner for Speaker of the House

Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, is the GOP nominee for Speaker of the House.

  • Over the course of his political career, McCarthy has developed a reputation for his ambition.

  • Here's a look at his more than two decades in office and how his influence has grown among the GOP.

Kevin McCarthy, a California congressman, is the House Republican nominee angling to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House in the next congressional session.

While he will still need to win 218 votes to win the Speaker's gavel when Congress convenes next year, the Bakersfield Republican has developed a reputation for his ambition over his more than 20-year political career and is favored to win the position.

Here's a look at McCarthy's career, starting with his time in the California State Assembly to his recent years as a political influencer poised to become second in the line of presidential succession.

Representatives for McCarthy did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.

Kevin McCarthy's political career began before he was elected to the California State Assembly. He worked in Rep. Bill Thomas's district office from 1987 to 2002, when he first won state office. The son of a Bakersfield assistant fire chief, McCarthy briefly ran a deli counter out of his aunt and uncle's frozen yogurt shop as a young adult but has worked in state or federal politics for his entire career.

FILE - In this March 26, 2004 file photo, then-California State Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, left, talks to reporters after a meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento, Calif. McCarthy, the majority leader who’s favored to become the next speaker of the House, has energetically nurtured GOP legislators in the House since he was elected to Congress nine years ago. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater, File)
In this March 26, 2004 file photo, then-California State Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, left, talks to reporters after a meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento, Calif.AP Photo/Steve Yeater, File

McCarthy served as California State Assemblyman until 2007 and was Assembly Minority Leader from 2004-2006. In 2006, he raised $1.15 million in campaign finances, according to OpenSecrets, slightly below the $1.36 million average raised by House members. In comparison, during the 2022 election, McCarthy raised $25.5 million — far above the $2.85 million average.

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2005 file photo, then-California State Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, right, walks with then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, and Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCarthy, the majority leader who’s favored to become the next speaker of the House, has energetically nurtured GOP legislators in the House since he was elected to Congress nine years ago. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
In this Feb. 17, 2005 file photo, then-California State Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, right, walks with then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, and Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File

After winning his election as representative for California's 22nd Congressional District in 2007, after his former boss Bill Thomas retired from the seat, McCarthy's political influence began to grow. He served as Majority Whip, the third-ranking House Republican from 2011 to 2014.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Thursday, June 21, 2007. (Photo by Chuck Kennedy/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Thursday, June 21, 2007.Chuck Kennedy/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In his early years as a US Representative, McCarthy was one of three founding members of the GOP Young Guns Program — an initiative intended to promote young Republicans among the National Republican Congressional Committee.

ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 01: U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks on day one of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center September 1, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The GOP will nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the Republican choice for U.S. President on the last day of the convention. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks on day one of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center September 1, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McCarthy ran for his House seat unopposed in 2008 and 2010. Reflecting on his one-time student, Dr. Mohsen Attaran, professor of management at California State University, Bakersfield, who taught McCarthy in his BA and MA programs, told Insider, "He's at the same time an ambitious and compassionate individual."

Earlier this month, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), shown here in the U.S. Capitol, December 9, 2009, was chosen in a poll of congressional insiders as the GOP member of Congress with the "brightest political future." (Robert Giroux/MCT) (Photo by Robert Giroux/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), shown here in the U.S. Capitol, December 9, 2009, was chosen in a poll of congressional insiders as the GOP member of Congress with the "brightest political future."Robert Giroux/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In 2012, McCarthy's congressional office was revealed to be one of the top spenders in Washington, spending the equivalent of two salaries — or $95,000 —on pastries and lunches, with an additional $4,000 being spent on bottled water, ABC reported. The next highest spender that year, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, spent a comparative $64,000.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July, 11, 2012, after the Republican-controlled House voted 244-185 to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July, 11, 2012, after the Republican-controlled House voted 244-185 to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

In his fifth term, McCarthy was part of a group of mostly GOP leaders who sued the Obama administration over the president's use of executive action related to the Affordable Care Act's employer health insurance mandate.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: House Republican Whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), leaves a meeting of the House Republican conference June 18, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. McCarthy is the favorite to be elected to the position of House Majority Leader tomorrow to replace Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) who was defeated in primary race last week. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
McCarthy (R-CA), leaves a meeting of the House Republican conference June 18, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.Win McNamee/Getty Images

Becoming more of a figurehead within the GOP, then-House Majority Leader McCarthy took a lead role in challenging the Obama administration's policy goals. He urged President Obama to sign legislation approving the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline and called for a firmer response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. He ran an unsuccessful bid for Speaker of the House in 2015.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., center, with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., right, sponsor of the Senate's Keystone XL pipeline bill version, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the Republican Conference, urge President Barack Obama to sign the legislation passed in the House and Senate approving expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., center, with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., right, sponsor of the Senate's Keystone XL pipeline bill version, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the Republican Conference, urge President Barack Obama to sign the legislation passed in the House and Senate approving expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

McCarthy was among the first Republicans to express support for Donald Trump and endorsed him for the Republican primary in the 2016 presidential election, signaling an alliance that would persist through two impeachments. McCarthy, now a GOP figurehead, also vastly out-fundraised other House Republicans in 2016— raising $7.74 million in campaign finance contributions compared to the average $1.73 million, according to OpenSecrets.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

In 2017, CalMatters reported "no politician has more clout with the Trump White House than [McCarthy] does," calling him "Trump's closest ally in Congress," though The Washington Post reported McCarthy had been recorded saying "I think Putin pays" Trump the year before.

President-elect Donald Trump, followed by President Barack Obama, greets Congressional leadership as they arrive for Trump's inauguration ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. From left are, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)
President-elect Donald Trump, followed by President Barack Obama, greets Congressional leadership as they arrive for Trump's inauguration ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool

As House Majority Leader, McCarthy unified House Republicans in voting against Trump's first impeachment, related to allegations the former president threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine in order to enlist the government in discrediting his political rival, Joe Biden.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 21 : House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., listen to President Donald J. Trump during a signing ceremony for S. 756, First Step Act and H.R. 6964, Juvenile Justice Reform Act in the Oval Office at the White House on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., listen to President Donald J. Trump during a signing ceremony for S. 756, First Step Act and H.R. 6964, Juvenile Justice Reform Act in the Oval Office at the White House on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018 in Washington, DC.Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

McCarthy has maintained his defense of the former president on numerous occasions, with CNN reporting he said "there's nothing that the president did wrong" on his phone call with Zelenskyy and Politico reporting he defended military expenditures at Trump's Scottish resort, saying "It's just like any other hotel."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., right, standing with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., left hidden, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, McCarthy privately lambasted the then-president, even saying he would call for Trump's resignation while maintaining public support for him. Though their relationship was briefly questioned after recordings of McCarthy's criticism surfaced, Trump reaffirmed his belief in McCarthy's loyalty earlier this year.

President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One, followed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., as he returns Saturday, May 30, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is returning from Kennedy Space Center for the SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One, followed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., as he returns Saturday, May 30, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump is returning from Kennedy Space Center for the SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch.AP Photo/Alex Brandon

"Kevin McCarthy will sell his mother's soul in order to protect his own political career and to do whatever the former president tells him to do. And that's not okay," McCarthy's 2022 political challenger, Marisa Wood, told Insider, echoing concerns from within his party that McCarthy's ambition had outweighed his morals. "He's willing to sacrifice everything for his own political gain," Liz Cheney said of McCarthy in October 2022.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference as Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., right, looks on at Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Pelosi is rejecting two Republicans tapped by House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy to sit on a committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. She cited the "integrity" of the investigation. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference as Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., right, looks on at Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Pelosi is rejecting two Republicans tapped by House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy to sit on a committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. She cited the "integrity" of the investigation.AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Today, McCarthy is a frontrunner for Speaker of the House just as Trump has announced his third presidential campaign. Though McCarthy still needs to win 218 votes to win the Speaker seat when Congress convenes next year, he's favored to win the position.

FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., heads to his office surrounded by reporters after House investigators issued a subpoena to McCarthy and four other Republican lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, at the Capitol in Washington, May 12, 2022. With the promise of a red wave receding, Republicans are facing the stark reality that any return to power would mean presiding over a narrowly split Congress. Meanwhile, McCarthy was weakened by the party's dismal performance as he reaches for the speaker's gavel (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., heads to his office surrounded by reporters after House investigators issued a subpoena to McCarthy and four other Republican lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, at the Capitol in Washington, May 12, 2022.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

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