Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)’s relationship with the press has always been strained. While no one could deny that he was unavailable — his impromptu walk-and-talk groups clogged many Capitol hallways — he also often gave routine, seemingly focused answers to questions.
So when McCarthy gave his first press conference after having the gavel taken away from him by a combination of party dissidents and House Democrats, he was finally able to speak his mind.
McCarthy was removed in a dramatic 216-210 vote after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) introduced a resolution declaring the speaker’s position vacant. The move came after a last-minute deal Saturday to keep the government open with a bill passed with Democratic votes, angering GOP hardliners in the House. Eight of them voted with Democrats to oust McCarthy.
The result of McCarthy losing the gavel was that he spent nearly an hour wistfully, sometimes charmingly and also combatively on display, dropping things he probably wouldn’t have said had he still been a speaker. As an X (formerly Twitter) wag said it“This is Kevin McCarthy’s farewell Festivus speech voicing his grievances?”
Below are some of the most eyebrow-raising moments:
1. He may still be upset about not getting a Hill internship.
A big part of McCarthy’s political persona is “the boy from Bakersfield” who worked hard, made some smart moves and whose experience shows that America works. In his opening statement, McCarthy mentioned how grateful he was to be the 55th Speaker of the House. But the way he phrased it showed that he hadn’t forgotten that he was rejected when he applied to be an intern for his local congressman while in college. “I didn’t know this man, but I thought he would be lucky to have me, so I applied. Do you know what he did? He rejected me. But you want to know the end of the story? I was elected to a position for which I could not get an internship. I ended up being the 55th Speaker of the House.” (His congressman was former Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, who died in 2021 called McCarthy a “hypocrite” for continuing to object to the 2020 election results on January 6, 2021, after insurrectionists attacked the U.S. Capitol.)
2. He claimed Pelosi said she would stand behind him if an overthrow was attempted.
He recounted a conversation he said took place between him and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who he said was having difficulty getting votes for speaker in his party because he was not immediately willing to bow to the demands Change the house rules to allow a member to initiate the overthrow process. “She said, ‘Just give it to them. I will always support you. I made the same offer to Boehner and the same to Paul [Ryan]’Because I believe in the institution.’ I think today was a political decision by the Democrats,” he said after they joined eight Republicans in voting to oust him. “I fear that the institution has collapsed today.” (Pelosi’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
3. He really, really doesn’t like Gaetz.
Gaetz, the leader of the effort to oust him, came up several times during McCarthy’s press conference – and McCarthy was often caustic in his references. But the sharpest response may have been when he was asked whether Gaetz’s gang represented the Republican Party. “You all know Matt Gaetz. You know it was personal. It had nothing to do with expenses. Anything he accused anyone of, he did. It was just about getting your attention,” he told the assembled reporters. “You can’t say they’re conservative because they’re angry and chaotic.” And also: “Just because Gaetz said something, don’t believe it’s true. I haven’t heard anything true from him yet.”
4. He would rather his speakership be dead than not be red.
McCarthy said he wouldn’t have accepted the speakership if he was relying on Democrats to cast votes or make concessions to win their votes. “NO. I’m a Republican. I win against the Republicans and I lose against the Republicans. That’s not the case,” he said.
5. He still believes he didn’t break the debt ceiling agreement.
In May, legislators agreed to a deal to suspend the debt ceiling until after the 2024 election. Democrats thought they had agreed on the so-called topline numbers, the amount of money to be spent on ongoing agencies and programs in 2024. But when it came time to write funding legislation to make that deal a reality, McCarthy said it allowed Republicans to write bills that were well below those caps, even though the caps had also been considered floors in the past. Democrats complained and said they didn’t agree to the numbers just as a cap. “If you agree to a spending level, that is the maximum amount you can spend. That’s what’s wrong with Washington. Because it’s the amount you can spend, you can spend less,” McCarthy said.
6. Note on former President Donald Trump – He doesn’t believe a non-member should be Speaker of the House.
“First of all, you have to be in the facility to understand how it works. Look, it’s legal to have someone else. I just don’t think that would ever be a good thing,” McCarthy said. Trump has called McCarthy “my Kevin” but did not defend him when he tried to unseat the California Republican.
7. He basically called Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) a liar.
“Nancy Mace is a whole different story,” he said after recounting how he felt blindsided by another GOP member when he was voted out. Mace voted for the resolution to oust McCarthy, saying he had gone back on his word to her when he introduced bills to convince Republican women that they were not radical on reproductive rights issues. He said he heard her say in a television interview before the vote that he had broken his word and tried to call her to talk about it. “Do you know what your chief of staff said? “You kept your word 100%,” he said. “Her chief of staff told all of us that we had kept every word we said, and he said he had told her the same.” Then a McCarthy aide shouted for the second time, “Last question!”
8. He believes that Democrats are harming the institution of Congress by using the January 6 attacks for political purposes.
Asked whether his criticism of concerns about the institutional health of Congress would have been more justified if he had taken January 6th more seriously, he replied: “Do I regret that the Democrats are playing games with January 6th?” Yes . They played so much politics. What they did to this institution, what they did to this building was so wrong,” he said. McCarthy initially blamed Trump for the attack, but met with him publicly just a few weeks later. When his selection for the investigative committee was not approved by Pelosi on January 6, he stopped supporting it. Democrats, he said, locked down the Capitol after Jan. 6 and, among other things, set up metal detectors outside the House chamber. “I’m trying to change all that and bring the body back so they can work together. But I think they did a lot of damage.”
9. He essentially called Russian President Vladimir Putin a modern-day Hitler – shortly after he blocked aid to Ukraine fighting the Russian invasion.
“What is happening here is very reminiscent of the 1930s. “Many of the actions that Putin takes are very similar to Hitler,” McCarthy said, before launching into a more than two-minute recitation of the similarities between the two. But it was only celebrated three days before Pass an emergency funding law McCarthy said: “If we’re worried about Ukraine’s border, we should also be worried about America’s border.” He linked the two issues again on Tuesday.
10. He said he was somewhat surprised by the lack of outreach from the White House.
McCarthy said he couldn’t remember the last time he spoke with President Joe Biden. “I thought we built some respect through the debt ceiling,” he said. Since the debt ceiling, the House of Representatives had done so with McCarthy’s blessing opened an impeachment inquiry in Biden, which focuses on the president’s son and activities leading up to Biden’s inauguration as president.
11. He believes Democrats didn’t help him keep the speakership in part because they feared his fundraising ability.
“I was just told by the Democrats at their conference that this helped them make their decision. I think her quote was, “Why should we help the person who becomes our executioner?” he said. This was followed by another swipe at Gaetz: “I’m sure Matt Gaetz will give it [National Republican Congressional Committee] a lot of money. He collected a lot online.”
12. He won’t miss dealing with reporters.
While McCarthy sometimes displayed admirable restraint when pursued through the Capitol by large crowds of reporters, it is probably not accurate to say that he enjoyed engaging with the press, as some speakers did . He accused reporters of always being negative, of underestimating him and House Republicans in general, and he often questioned relatively obvious premises of reporters’ questions. So when he ended the press conference, he pretty much said, “I enjoy you. I don’t know if you’ll cover me that much, but I’m sure I won’t miss you. But see you soon.”