Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is weighing whether to stay in office following his unprecedented ouster as speaker – even as he believes he didn’t deserve to lose his job and is still resentful of the Republicans who effectively ended his nine-month tenure atop the House.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, McCarthy made clear he misses being “at the table” even as he promised to help the new speaker; went further in his embrace of former President Donald Trump heading into 2024; and questioned whether the “crazy eight” Republicans who voted to strip him of the gavel are even conservatives at all.
The California Republican reserved his harshest attacks for Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who led the charge for McCarthy’s ouster. McCarthy continually accused Gaetz of only going after him because of a House Ethics Committee probe he’s facing, a charge the GOP hardliner has repeatedly denied.
“I don’t believe them to be conservatives,” McCarthy said of the eight Republicans. “It’s driven by Gaetz, and it was all based upon an ethics complaint that happened in the last Congress. He would throw his country away to try to protect himself for what would come out as the truth.”
McCarthy suggested that Gaetz had called for the vote for McCarthy’s removal – and later backed Mike Johnson’s ascension as speaker – simply to quash the ethics probe.
“If the Ethics Committee never does anything to Gaetz, then Gaetz was successful in stopping probably what rightfully should come to him,” McCarthy said.
While McCarthy called for Gaetz to face “consequences,” accusing him of having violated internal House GOP Conference rules by calling the ouster vote without the requisite support from Republicans, Johnson doesn’t seem to be going in that direction.
Asked if he were concerned about Johnson’s approach to Gaetz, McCarthy said: “That’s a question for Speaker Johnson. I don’t know if they made any deals for the vote or anything like that. I don’t believe so. But I will let Ethics do their work.”
Johnson’s office declined to comment, while Gaetz brushed off the attacks.
“Thoughts and prayers to the former speaker as he works through his grief,” Gaetz said.
McCarthy, adjusting from being the most powerful Republican in Washington to a rank-and-file member not driving his party’s agenda, is planning to fill out the rest of his term, his aides say. But he made clear in the interview that he may call forgo a reelection bid.
“I got the holidays. I will talk to my family about the ideas of what is going forward, and then I will make a decision,” McCarthy told CNN as he sat in his small office, which he noted was where Harry Truman was playing cards upon learning he’d become president in 1945 following Franklin Roosevelt’s death.
Yet McCarthy sounded uncertain about staying in the House.
“Well, there’s so many ways you can do that to make sure you’re getting the job done. And I’m going to look at all options,” he added.
When asked if he was leaning toward staying in Congress behind or choosing a new path, McCarthy said, “I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy’s removal as speaker may be felt in the GOP’s pocketbook.
In his time as GOP leader and then as speaker, he was a fundraising juggernaut for the party, raking in $637 million for his two affiliated outside groups, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the American Action Network. And federal records show that McCarthy raised $78 million for four of his fundraising entities just this year.
While Johnson has already taken steps to bolster his fundraising appeal – and as the GOP’s party committee touts strong fundraising since his election as speaker –the Louisiana Republican has reached out to McCarthy to help introduce him to big donors.
“The speaker called me last night, asking if I would go to an event,” McCarthy said Thursday. “I’m going to do everything I can to introduce him to people … because it’s for the conference and the country itself.”
But McCarthy has maintained a low profile since Johnson’s election, saying he hasn’t been attending GOP conference meetings “because I don’t want people to turn to me” as the new speaker begins his tenure.
McCarthy told CNN that he has not spoken to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries since his ouster, although the two maintained a cordial relationship during his time as speaker — before the New York Democrat voted for his removal.
And he dismissed concerns from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who lost valuable office space in the Capitol after he greenlit ejecting her from the space.
“Well, you now have a new former speaker,” he said. “That’s the problem.”
McCarthy also accused Pelosi of betraying her word when it came to the motion to oust him.
“Before I was elected, I was still having problems with getting the votes, which she did as well. And I told her the issue was bringing back this motion to vacate. And the first thing she said: ‘Just give it to them. Just give it to them. We’d never allow that. It’s not good for the House,’” McCarthy said of Pelosi. “Look, at the end of the day, the Democrats decided to make a political decision.”
Aaron Bennett, a Pelosi spokesman, called McCarthy’s comments “nonsense.”
“Speaker Pelosi has made clear – to McCarthy and to everyone – that she values the dignity of the House,” Bennett said. “Recognizing that Hakeem Jeffries is our candidate for speaker, Speaker Pelsoi said to McCarthy that we will take our lead from him.”
But it was McCarthy’s acquiescence to the hard right that ultimately did him in. As he was scrambling to get the votes to be elected speaker in January – ultimately gaining the position after 15 ballots – he agreed to lower the threshold to allow a single member to call for a vote ousting a sitting speaker, a departure from the threshold under Pelosi, who had made it much harder to call for such a vote.
Asked if he had thought he would make it two years as speaker, McCarthy said: “I never knew.”
McCarthy credited Trump for his winning the gavel. But in recent months, he came under hot water from Trump’s team when he seemed to question whether he would be the best candidate for the GOP.
In the interview, McCarthy predicted that the former president will be the party’s nominee next year and said that he will support him.
“I haven’t endorsed, but I support President Trump,” he said.
McCarthy has repeatedly defended the former president despite countless controversies and told CNN he is unconcerned about Trump’s criminal charges heading into 2024.
McCarthy said “in most candidates, you would worry about things like that,” but not when it comes to Trump. Still, But he acknowledged it “could hurt a little” when it comes to Trump’s standing among suburban or swing voters: “But Biden’s in a worse situation, right?”
McCarthy also made clear that he has few regrets – and that he would not change his decision, on the brink of a government shutdown, to advance a stopgap funding bill that needed Democratic support to become law. Gaetz cited the move as the last straw.
“I would do the exact same thing again to keep our government open, to fund our troops,” McCarthy said before unloading on the eight Republicans.
“This country is too great to have such small ideas like these eight have,” McCarthy said.
And he continued to question Gaetz’s motivations.
“He doesn’t have a conservative bent in his philosophy, and just the nature of what he focuses on,” McCarthy said of Gaetz, recalling an incident in which the 41-year-old Florida Republican discussed what drives him.
“The TV congressman – that’s what he wants to be known for.”
Haley Talbot and Shania Shelton contributed to this report.
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