Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future

Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse leaders need to modernize Congress for the sake of America Overnight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide MORE (R-Calif.) on Wednesday swatted down suggestions that he could serve as President TrumpDonald John TrumpCummings says Ivanka Trump not preserving all official communications Property is a fundamental right that is now being threatened 25 states could see severe flooding in coming weeks, scientists say MORE’s next chief of staff if John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE resigns, but did little to quell speculation surrounding his future.

McCarthy was asked twice about the position, at a leadership press conference and in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

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The No. 2 House Republican denied that he’d had any talks with Trump about a job, and he emphasized in his remarks to reporters that there was no opening.

“First of all, I have not spoken to the president about anything about a job,” McCarthy said, pointing for emphasis. “And I never have. And there is no job opening.”

The majority leader stuck to that line with Hewitt, but didn’t directly answer a question about whether he’d consider being chief of staff if Trump asked. 

“Look, there is no opening,” McCarthy told Hewitt.

“I think Gen. Kelly is an amazing person. I watched what he’s been able to do with this White House, put structure to it, and I think those hypotheticals are not healthy in any shape or form. We all work very well together. And we’ve got a lot of work still to do.”

Pressed by Hewitt that “that wasn’t a ‘no,’ ” McCarthy said, “But there is no job out there.”

McCarthy was first reported to be on the shortlist for Trump’s chief of staff last year, when Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusMulvaney poised to become permanent White House chief of staff: report DNC decision to shut out Fox News hurts Democratic candidates and Americans The five Trump communications directors who have come and gone MORE resigned after a little more than six months on the job.

His name has cropped up again in recent days as questions swirl about Kelly’s future.

Kelly is in the midst of the biggest controversy of his tenure and is facing questions about how staff secretary Rob Porter was able to work at the White House despite domestic abuse allegations from two ex-wives.

It’s easy to see why McCarthy, 53, would see his name floated for chief of staff.

The former small-business owner has become one of Trump’s most loyal point men on Capitol Hill, even working to clear up confusion in a GOP conference meeting last month when Trump tweeted out a contradictory statement about a surveillance bill ahead of a House vote.

McCarthy has built a strong rapport with the president since the 2016 campaign. He embraced the unconventional presidential candidate even when other Republicans were racing to distance themselves from Trump.

GOP lawmakers describe McCarthy as an easygoing people person, but they also view him as a savvy politician who uses his commanding charm to build crucial alliances in Washington.

“He is very good with people. There’s no question about it. And around a place like the White House, there are pretty large egos and pretty important people,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeDems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — FDA issues proposal to limit sales of flavored e-cigs | Trump health chief gets grilling | Divisions emerge over House drug pricing bills | Dems launch investigation into short-term health plans Overnight Health Care - Presented by Kidney Care Partners - Dems renew push to fund gun violence research at CDC | New uncertainty over vaping crackdown | Lawmakers spar over Medicare drug prices MORE (R-Okla.).

“But he also would give the president exquisitely good advice on how Congress operates. He actually would be about as sophisticated a political player as they could get.”

Already, McCarthy has shown a willingness to use a mix of flattery and force with Trump.

While flying aboard Air Force One last fall, McCarthy noticed the president’s preference for the pink and red Starbursts — so he sent a jar full of them to Trump as a gift, according to The Washington Post.

But McCarthy also isn’t afraid to reel in Trump when he needs to.

During a publicly televised White House meeting on immigration earlier this year, it was McCarthy who corrected Trump after he suggested he would accept a clean immigration bill without border security measures.

“Mr. President, you need to be clear, though … you have to have security,” McCarthy said.

“But I think that’s what [Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP lawmaker offers constitutional amendment capping Supreme Court seats at 9 Overnight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power Dem senators demand offshore drilling info before Bernhardt confirmation hearing MORE (D-Calif.)] is saying,” Trump said.

“No, no, I think she is saying something different,” McCarthy shot back, but in a way that did not appear to anger Trump.

Some lawmakers question whether McCarthy would be tough enough to have real influence over the freewheeling president. Kelly was brought in to be an enforcer, and has been largely credited with cracking down on the chaotic operations inside the White House.

“He might be able to tell [Trump] no nicer than some other folks,” said one GOP lawmaker. “But from what I can tell, this president doesn’t like to hear the word no. He likes people to affirm what he is thinking, not to sway him.”

Still, many Republicans believe he would be a natural fit for the job. But whether McCarthy would even take the post if it was offered to him is a different question.

On the one hand, it’s unclear what McCarthy’s role in Congress would look like if the GOP doesn’t hang on to its House majority or if Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class Former House candidate and ex-ironworker says there is 'buyer's remorse' for Trump in Midwest Head of top hedge fund association to step down MORE (R-Wis.) retires.

McCarthy abruptly dropped his bid to replace former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE (R-Ohio) in 2015, saying he was worried he wouldn’t have enough support to effectively preside over the Republican conference.

He could vie for the gavel again, though McCarthy could be facing some stiff competition this time around. Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump keeps tight grip on GOP GOP lawmakers: House leaders already jockeying for leadership contests House Republicans find silver lining in minority MORE (R-La.), who was shot during a GOP baseball practice last year, is seen as one possible contender to replace Ryan if he calls it quits.

The White House chief of staff job could be seen as an attractive alternative for McCarthy if he decides that he has met the end of the road in the House.

But other GOP lawmakers question why McCarthy would leave a job he is skilled at for something even more demanding and high-pressure, especially since the administration has churned through some of the most veteran political players.

“It’s a very prestigious, powerful position, but I believe [McCarthy] could do more good for the country as majority leader of the House than he could as chief of staff,” said Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonGOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority Privacy legislation could provide common ground for the newly divided Congress Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas.). “I think the chief of staff at the White House has real headaches.”

“I can’t understand why anybody would want to do that to themselves and injure their reputation in the process,” another GOP lawmaker told The Hill. “He has a good relationship with Trump. Why go to be his chief of staff? His relationship can only go in one direction: down.”