Backlash Against Biden Could Mean Speaker Kevin McCarthy

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The New York Sun

Meet Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. The recent historical pattern is that voters check a new president by handing control of the House of Representatives over to the opposing party. In 2018, nearly two years into the Trump administration, Republicans lost 40 seats, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was replaced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

In 2010, nearly two years into the Obama administration, Democrats lost 63 seats, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi was replaced by a Republican, John Boehner. In 1994, two years into the Clinton administration, the Democrats lost 52 seats, and Democrat Tom Foley was replaced as House speaker by a Republican, Newt Gingrich.

The current House split is 220 Democrats to 212 Republicans, with three seats vacant. A switch of even a handful of congressional districts to Republican control would effectively fire Speaker Pelosi. It would constrain President Biden’s legislative agenda even more than it is already limited by his party’s narrow hold in the Senate and by the ideological fractiousness of House Democrats.

Mr. McCarthy, 56, the Californian who would be in line to become speaker were Republicans to follow the pattern and take control of the House in the 2022 election, lacks the intellectual star power of either Messrs. Gingrich or Ryan. Mr. Gingrich, a history professor who crafted the “Contract With America” policy platform, has devoted his post-congressional career in part to writing books and producing documentaries. Mr. Ryan, who was Governor Romney’s running mate in 2012, was known for elaborate slide presentations about the federal budget and the need to curb runaway entitlement costs.

In 2010, Messrs. Ryan and McCarthy and Eric Cantor in 2010 co-authored the book “Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders.” Reviewing the volume, I wrote, “These guys are, after all, politicians, a fact that occasionally shines through.”

As Republican leader, Mr. McCarthy has been pressing tried-and-true Republican issues — border control, gas prices, the threat of Communist China, honoring the police. He’s especially pressed outreach to Hispanic Americans. His website includes headlines such as “What Socialism Means to Cuban Americans.”It also features an article about Javier Villalobos, a Republican elected mayor of the majority Hispanic city of McAllen, Texas. “Villalobos is the son of migrant workers who didn’t have much of an education…The Hispanic community is pretty conservative, the mayor told us.”

Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district is within the city of San Francisco. Mr. McCarthy’s includes the city of Bakersfield and surrounding parts of Kern and Tulare counties: “The three largest industries in the 23rd District are agriculture, energy, and defense,” McCarthy’s website notes.

California is a big state, and the difference between Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy is the difference between San Francisco and Bakersfield, between the coast and the central valley. As McCarthy’s own bio describes it, “A fourth-generation resident of Kern County, Kevin is the son of a firefighter and the grandson of a cattle rancher – raised in a working-class Bakersfield household, Kevin learned the value of hard work at a young age.” After high school, he started a deli that he eventually sold to pay his way through California State University Bakersfield.

A Politico magazine profile from a previous moment when it appeared McCarthy would be speaker described him as “an operative’s operative, skilled at the inside games of redistricting, candidate recruitment, organizing and electioneering.” McCarthy has allied himself with Donald Trump rather than with outspoken Republicans such as Liz Cheney, who have faulted Trump for refusing to accept that he lost in 2020.

If Republicans win control of the House in 2022 and Mr. McCarthy does become speaker, it will because a lot of American voters do not live in San Francisco or New York City. Instead they live in places like Bakersfield, California or McAllen, Texas. Joe Biden’s campaign geographic shorthand was his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

If the Biden presidency doesn’t produce positive results in places like that — or if it instead inflicts inflation, regulation, tax increases and cultural conflicts that make things even worse than they were — future legislative initiatives of the Biden presidency will have to pass through Speaker McCarthy, Republican of Bakersfield.

The New York Sun

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