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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
"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.
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.
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