Kevin McCarthy, GOP’s mainstream choice for majority leader, preaches to the party’s right

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 20, 2014 

— Rep. Kevin McCarthy hit the right notes Friday in his first major public appearance since winning promotion 24 hours earlier to the House’s No. 2 spot.

Newly elected as House majority leader, the 49-year-old Bakersfield, California, native arrived at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference still in his current capacity as majority whip. He insisted on a humble if familiar message even as, behind the scenes, he was preparing to wield greater power.

“I go home every week. I sleep on a couch inside the Beltway,” McCarthy said. “I don’t want to become Washington. I want Kern County’s views to become Washington.”

McCarthy’s 10-minute talk to several hundred conference participants at the Omni Shoreham Hotel shed little light on his tough new job. Instead, he stuck to tried-and-true themes for this particular audience, including his gratitude toward God, his marriage to his high school sweetheart and the lessons to be learned from Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.

“I didn’t set out to be elected majority leader,” McCarthy said. “You’ve got to understand where I come from. I’m the grandson of a cattle rancher and the son of a firefighter.”

McCarthy’s appearance at the conference was set up weeks ago, long before Thursday’s majority leader election in which he handily dispatched Idaho Republican Raul Labrador in a secret ballot.

It seemed an apt post-election venue – though “nothing happens by accident,” Faith and Freedom Coalition leader Ralph Reed intoned meaningfully – because it gave McCarthy a chance to reach out to several Republican constituencies. Some conference participants supported Labrador, or at least the stricter conservative doctrines he espoused, and the 233-member House GOP delegation still shows divisions.

“We need to change the face of the leadership,” Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said on C-SPAN Friday, when asked why he supported Labrador.

The majority leader’s job McCarthy formally assumes July 31 brings new responsibilities, like setting legislative priorities. It brings new trappings of power, like added staff. It brings special burdens, like trying to unite the Republicans’ right, hard-right and centrist wings, and it brings potential political dangers, some of which McCarthy already has addressed.

His sudden rise was an outgrowth of current House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking June 10 primary defeat. Cantor’s loss to a little-known college professor stemmed from many reasons, but one was a belief that he neglected his Richmond, Virginia, district even as he maneuvered upward through Capitol Hill palace intrigue.

Shortly after his victory was announced Thursday, McCarthy posted a 30-second campaign video that emphasized his enduring roots in California’s Central Valley. The message was clear: Unlike some congressional bigwigs, McCarthy is still the hometown guy.

“Bakersfield is where I was born and raised,” McCarthy declared, gazing into the camera. “Being elected majority leader was an honor, but my highest honor is serving our community and you.”

McCarthy’s local California operations will remain much the same with his new position. He’ll keep his Bakersfield office, nestled between State Route 99 and the Kern River, and his district staff of about eight still will help constituents in Tulare, Kern and Los Angeles counties.

For residents of his 23rd Congressional District, which includes the city of Porterville, as well as a mountain swath through Sequoia National Park, McCarthy’s staff reported opening 1,368 constituent casework files over the past 18 months. These cases cover everything from tracking lost Social Security checks to securing veterans benefits and recovering old military medals.

In Washington, McCarthy will gain reinforcements. The current Office of the Majority Leader employs 27 staffers, in addition to those working in the congressional office. As whip, McCarthy employs 22 leadership staffers, according to the most recent House Staff Directory.

He’ll also get a raise, boosting his annual salary to $193,400, up from the $174,000 paid to rank-and-file members. The congressman already enjoys security protection and is driven about Washington by a plainclothes officer of the U.S. Capitol Police.

He likely will keep his current first-floor Capitol office, where members have become accustomed to dropping in at all hours and where his staff can remain close together.

“I’m fortunate enough,” McCarthy said Friday, “that my constituents have lent me power.”

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©2014 McClatchy Washington Bureau

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