House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — with his party moving into the minority after the Democratic victory on Election Day — says he has already locked up the votes to become the top Republican in the next Congress.
McCarthy also predicted House Democrats would impeach President Donald Trump, and said that move would backfire and guarantee Trump’s reelection.
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In his first interview since Tuesday’s drubbing — Democrats racked up their biggest House win since the Watergate scandal — McCarthy on Friday said the GOP will have to learn from its mistakes this past cycle. But he insisted that Republicans can get back in the majority in 2020, despite an unpopular, unpredictable president sitting in the Oval Office. And McCarthy asserted he is the right person to lead them there.
“I had the votes the first day,” McCarthy said of the race to become minority leader. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a hard-line conservative who helped found the House Freedom Caucus, is running against McCarthy. House Republicans will choose their new leaders on Nov. 14.
The 53-year-old McCarthy — first elected to the House in 2006 — also declared he’s not disappointed that he won’t have a chance to become speaker.
“I never ran for Congress to be speaker, I ran to change the country,” McCarthy insisted. “So whatever position I am in, that’s my No. 1 focus.”
McCarthy ran for speaker in 2015 after the ouster of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) but was forced to withdraw in the face of opposition from Jordan and the Freedom Caucus. That cleared the way for Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to ascend to the speaker’s chair. Ryan announced in April that he was leaving Congress, and McCarthy wanted to replace him, but the Democrats’ victory once again denied him the chance for the brass ring.
“It’s not about me,” McCarthy said. “Am I disappointed we don’t have the majority? Yeah. But it’s not about me.”
McCarthy also said Jordan’s challenge for minority leader doesn’t bother him, and he predicted the Freedom Caucus — which often derailed the leadership’s agenda by demanding the most conservative option on legislation — will have to fall in line with the rest of the Republican Conference once it’s in the minority.
“I think it’s good, I think it’s healthy,” McCarthy said of Jordan’s candidacy for minority leader.
On Trump, McCarthy has forged a close relationship with the president, and he repeatedly declined to criticize Trump’s decision to focus on immigration — and not the strong economy, as House Republican begged him to do — in the final weeks of the election. McCarthy himself took a more hard-line stance on immigration before the midterms in an apparent attempt to woo House conservatives.
“I don’t think you would have a Republican governor of Ohio or Georgia or Florida if the president didn’t go in and campaign in the manner which they did,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy, though, did acknowledge that Trump’s path to reelection in 2020 may not help GOP efforts to retake the House. Suburban voters, alienated by Trump, broke for Democrats this cycle and helped vault them back into the majority.
“I think we’re gonna have to find a way that we work together so we can be successful for both,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy believes House Democrats will impeach Trump — no matter what Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats say now — and the backlash over that action will guarantee that Trump wins another term.
“They will not be able to control themselves,” McCarthy said. “If they impeach the president in the House, they reelect the president.”
McCarthy has not spoken to Pelosi since the election, but he noted that the same trio who led Democrats into the minority during 2010 — Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn — are on the path to return as speaker, majority leader and minority whip respectively next year.
He also predicted the Democratic leadership will have to cave in to demands from the party base to move aggressively leftward, such as passing “Medicare for all” legislation, which will give Trump and House Republicans an opportunity to rebound.
“They’re coming back to Pelosi, to Steny, to Clyburn?” McCarthy said. “These Democrats come in as much more progressive, they feel unleashed about going much further to the left.”
But McCarthy praised Democrats’ ability to build a formidable political operation, especially the success of ActBlue, the hugely successful fundraising conduit for progressive incumbents and challengers. McCarthy said he will move to remake the National Republican Congressional Committee, which was badly outraised by its Democratic counterpart this cycle.
“It’s going to be a team and it’s going to change. And we are going to modernize. We have to combat ActBlue,” McCarthy said. “It’s a new era … that made a difference in races. It made a difference in numbers and it’s a battle that we have to have. I think recruitment has to improve, and whoever becomes the chair over there, it’s going to be a team.”
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), NRCC chairman this cycle, will not run for reelection to that post. McCarthy would not say who wants to take over the committee, noting that the position is elected by the GOP conference. Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Mimi Walters of California have each signaled they’re interested in the job.
“The NRCC has to be on offense, not defense,” McCarthy said. “The members here have to realize they have their responsibilities, and for us to be in the majority, we have to pick up seats. … You don’t win majorities by playing defense.”