The California Republican became the first speaker in history to get ejected from the position, thanks to eight GOP lawmakers who linked arms with House Democrats. Few expected him to stay in the House as a rank-and-file member for long. Still, McCarthy is expected to remain active in party affairs, including exacting revenge against the Republican critics who helped torpedo his short-lived speakership.
He confirmed he’d still be politically involved in the op-ed, writing that he plans to help recruit the “country’s best and brightest to run for elected office.” He also noted he is “committed to lending my experience to support the next generation of leaders.”
There have been tension points as he remained in the House, with some members suspicious that he had meddled in the nasty, three-week long search for his replacement. Since Speaker Mike Johnson was elected, McCarthy has remained mostly uninvolved in leadership.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a vocal ally of the Californian, blamed conservatives (and other lawmakers who voted to expel Rep. George Santos last week) for further narrowing the incredibly slim Republican majority come 2024.
“Hopefully no one dies,” Greene wrote in a post on X.
POLITICO first reported in early October that McCarthy was strongly entertaining leaving Congress after the House GOP picked Johnson as his successor. The former GOP leader denied it at the time, saying he would run for reelection.
He is slated to have a party in his honor on Dec. 13 — hosted by House GOP leadership — thanking him for his help delivering the House majority to Republicans.
His retirement will also kick off a race for his Bakersfield-based district seat, which is solidly red. And there are plenty of ambitious GOP politicians eager for a rare shot at a safe seat. If McCarthy resigns after Friday at 5 p.m., as expected, then Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom can choose whether to call a special election or keep the seat vacant until the next election. He chose the latter in 2020, when former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) resigned after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds.
If McCarthy formally steps down before Friday at 5 p.m., then Newsom would have to call the special election due to filing deadline rules.
Even before McCarthy announced his plans, Central Valley political insiders were circulating a list of more than a dozen possible contenders. Among them are several state legislators from the area, including state Sen. Shannon Grove and Assemblymembers Vince Fong and Devon Mathis.
Grove goes way back with the former speaker. McCarthy suggested that she run for the Assembly in 2010, which was her first foray into politics. A former GOP leader in the state Senate, Grove also has fundraising chops. She steered Republican legislators into a rare PR win earlier this year when her bill to designate sex trafficking as a serious crime put Democrats on their heels. (Newsom ended up signing the bill with a beaming Grove in attendance.)
Fong, who was McCarthy’s former district director, would appear to be a natural heir apparent, given his close relationship with his former boss. He’s a strong fundraiser who has pulled in more than $420,000 for his Assembly reelection committee, despite having no declared opponent. Several observers noted that Fong is recently married, however, and may not be as eager for the cross-country gig.
Regardless of whoever wins the seat, Republicans in the area are bracing for a steep decline in Washington clout after losing McCarthy and former Rep. Devin Nunes.
“We had been used to having pretty high-profile leadership,” said Diane Pearce, a Clovis City Council member who has also been viewed as a potential candidate but ruled out a run shortly after McCarthy’s announcement. “The fact we had some high-ranking members of leadership in Washington really helped.”
Jeremy White contributed to this report.