Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future

Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Midterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil MORE (R-Calif.) on Wednesday swatted down suggestions that he could serve as President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 PriebusBannon says right must support ‘RINOs’ CNN: Trump searching for Woodward sources in White House Woodward book rocks Trump White House 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 ColeConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Overnight Health Care: House GOP blocks Trump-backed drug pricing provision | Maryland sues to protect ObamaCare | Insurers offer help to hurricane-impacted areas House GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill 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 FeinsteinThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Grassley wants unredacted version of letter from Kavanaugh's accuser Gillibrand: Kavanaugh accuser shouldn't participate in 'sham' 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 RyanElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? MORE (R-Wis.) retires.

McCarthy abruptly dropped his bid to replace former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerNancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker GOP senator says he 'regularly' considers leaving Republican Party 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 ScaliseOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Midterms to shake up top posts on House finance panel On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' 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 BartonConservatives blame McCarthy for Twitter getting before favorable committee Worst-case scenario for House GOP is 70-seat wipeout Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 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.”