Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy gets the technology industry, but that does not automatically translate to major legislative victories if he is elected House Speaker.
The tech sector sees the California Republican’s anticipated ascent to the top spot as a win, even as they acknowledge they cannot expect 100 percent support from any leader. More than specific policy positions, insiders tout him as an ambassador to the industry, building relationships with companies in his home state and encouraging other members to learn about the growing industry.
Andy Halataei, who helps lead government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council, said McCarthy “gets innovation, he understands why it works and he understands tech’s role in the economy.”
McCarthy, the current majority leader, is the front-runner to take the gavel when current Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE (R-Ohio) resigns from Congress next month amid internal divisions in the conference. Lobbyists say that, if elected, he would have the closest ties to the tech industry of any previous leader — apart from former Speaker and current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat whose district is based in San Francisco.
The Internet Association calls McCarthy an “ambassador to Silicon Valley,” while the Consumer Electronics Association says he is a “passionate evangelist for the innovation economy.”
McCarthy has taken GOP colleagues out to Silicon Valley for educational tours in recent years, and he lamented that Congress is technologically behind the times during a speech at the right-leaning Lincoln Labs tech conference earlier this year. In March, the Internet Association gave him the “Congressional Internet Freedom Award.”
But even as tech lobbyists heap praise on his ties to the industry, they are hesitant to point to any specific bill or policy priority important to tech companies that would be elevated if McCarthy wins the top spot in the House. One lobbyist for the industry said it would be hasty to make any swift predictions before the dust settles.
And some outside Washington question McCarthy’s past record.
Lincoln Labs co-founder Garrett Johnson said McCarthy hasn’t proven to be a “tech leader” on policy, even though he agrees McCarthy has worked hard to build relationships in the industry. Though Johnson said McCarthy has a lot of potential because of those inroads, he questioned McCarthy’s accomplishments or policy advocacy during his short time as majority leader, as well as his time as a rank-and-file member — saying the results “remains to be seen.”
“Having meetings and having conversations is great … but what has been achieved and what has been done?” Johnson asked, noting that many in Silicon Valley are not optimistic about government in general.
Separately, liberal-leaning tech advocates are sure to continue to clash with McCarthy — and the GOP more broadly — about the party’s opposition to net neutrality regulations.
“At a minimum, the digital left is going to demagogue him,” said Berin Szoka of the right-leaning TechFreedom.
Industry lobbyists have pointed to McCarthy’s views on the sharing economy, saying that he is sympathetic to the idea that the industry needs to grow without strict regulation. They also tout his past work on trade, surveillance reform and cybersecurity.
Others laud his position on patent litigation reform and his leadership role as majority whip when that reform overwhelmingly passed the House in 2013.
But patent legislation hit a roadblock this Congress. McCarthy temporarily pulled it from floor consideration earlier this year amid mounting opposition, but supporters don’t center that blame squarely on McCarthy.
“I don’t know, actually,” TechNet’s Moore said when asked if McCarthy was still on tech’s side of the debate. “That is sort of a moving target, almost day by day. It is very complex. Patent reform has just been really difficult this year.”
Moore highlighted one issue in which McCarthy “swung into action” for the tech community. In February, the group spoke with he and others about some of China’s proposed regulations that would have put pressure on U.S. tech companies operating there. Moore said McCarthy immediately understood the issue and spearheaded a letter that helped get China to pause, though it remains an ongoing issue.
If a bipartisan legislative fix on net neutrality ever emerged, TechFreedom’s Szoka said McCarthy would be in a better position to move it, given conservatives’ suspicion of BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse markup of ObamaCare repeal bill up in the air Conservatives to Congress: Get moving Boehner: ObamaCare repeal and replace 'not going to happen' MORE. There has been no movement on that front lately, but the outcome of a brewing court battle could spur action.
“McCarthy is probably in a much better position to shepherd a legislative deal from committee to the floor and to the president’s desk,” Szoka said.