The Washington Post

House Dems like McCarthy, are eager to see if they can work with him

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

The shocking primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and rapid ascension of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) to replace him left House Democrats sitting on the sidelines for much of this week as they watched the majority party scramble to elect new leadership.

And with McCarthy now preparing to become the next majority leader, many Democrats in the House say they are encouraged by his election -- describing the current House GOP whip as an affable and polite congressman who counts many young Democrats among his close friends in Washington.

"He is a thoughtful, pragmatic person individually and I think you also see that through his leadership style as well," said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a friend of McCarthy's who says she's excited to see him installed as the new majority leader.

Some of McCarthy's closest relationships across the aisle come from the morning congressional workout group -- a bipartisan collection of members who work out together each day that the House is in session that includes Gabbard, McCarthy, Joe Kennedy (D-Ma), Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and several others.

"He's a very results-driven person... and I think that can probably explain his quick trajectory," Gabbard said. "Kevin and I are not going to agree on everything, but I think that it's important to our country to find ways to work together... and when you look at people in the history of the Congress who have been most productive, it's because they've developed relationships on both sides of the aisle."

McCarthy coasted into the majority leader spot this week, quickly securing the votes needed to take over when Cantor steps down in July and completing the fastest rise to leadership in the history of the U.S. Congress. As a top leader of an at-times splintered GOP House caucus, the focus now shifts to how McCarthy might help guide House Republicans to compromise with Senate Democrats -- with whom they repeatedly clashed on issues ranging from immigration reform to the voting rights act to federal long-term unemployment insurance.

Democratic members of the California's congressional delegation have only good things to say about McCarthy and his likelihood of being a productive and successful GOP majority leader, although some noted that they are not particularly close with him.

"The fact that he might win proves that he's not particularly close with the California Democratic delegation," joked Rep. Brad Sherman earlier this week prior to McCarthy's election. "Very few of us say: 'Oh, maybe now our district will get money for a high-speed rail!'"

Sherman, who said he likes McCarthy personally, went on to say that he wishes McCarthy well even though he is not particularly close with the new House majority leader.

"I've never gotten drunk with Kevin and done anything that I couldn't tell the Washington Post about," Sherman said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) told reporters on Thursday that she is looking forward to working with McCarthy.

"I certainly know him as a Californian, and I wish him well," Pelosi said, adding that she spoke briefly with him on Wednesday night and congratulated him in advance of his election.

Many Democrats have framed the House GOP leadership shakeup through the terms of immigration, publicly noting that they hope McCarthy's ascension will re-open the possibility of reviving the stagnant efforts to pass a comprehensive rewrite of the nation's immigration laws that has stalled in the House.

“I’m hopeful that we can work with the new Republican leadership in the House to pass immigration reform," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the Senate's leading Democrats, said in a statement issued immediately following McCarthy's election. "We are open to all ideas that will reform our broken system, and look forward to discussing a path to reform with them.”

Cantor's defeat and the ensuing week-long power struggle within the Republican House caucus posed a message dilemma for Democrats locked in a tight fight to hold onto their Senate majority (and hoping to not fall into a much deeper minority in the House) during this fall's midterm elections.

“It makes no difference who their leaders are because their leaders always follow their base," declared Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, following McCarthy's election. "Now more than ever, House Republicans are increasingly paranoid and watching their right flank as they show that their top priority is pleasing the tea party – even if it means turning off independent voters.”

But both Democrats and Republicans who know and who have worked with McCarthy have described him as professional, kind-hearted and results-oriented.

Those traits, some rank-and-file Democrats say, gives them some hope about working with the newly-elected House majority leader.

"He's a complete gentlemen, completely affable," said Rep. Stephen Lynch, (D-Ma.), who serves with McCarthy on the House Financial Services committee. "He seems to be a solid legislator."

Lynch described a recent back and forth he had with McCarthy over a proposed tweak to the Dodd-Frank financial law.h McCarthy supported a walk-back on some of the financial reporting requirements in the bill. Lynch, thinking he went too far, adamantly fought back.

"We've had some differences obviously, but he agreed to sit down and work on it," Lynch said. "He said: 'look, I'm glad to work it out with you.' A gentleman."

Top House Democrats have remained measured in their responses when asked about McCarthy, saying they are looking forward to working with him but are not positive that he will be able to usher in compromise on large-scale legislation.

"Mr. McCarthy and I have a good relationship. I think he is in touch with his caucus," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters earlier this week. "He is obviously popular in his caucus. If he weren't popular in his caucus, he would have had a real threat to him. Others chose not to run. So I think he starts with a good consensus in his caucus that he's going to be the majority leader. In that context, I think he has the ability to make some positive steps."

Hoyer said that he hopes he'll be able to find common ground with McCarthy on immigration, the Import-Export bank, immigration and the voting rights amendment.

Still, Hoyer added, while McCarthy will bring a new energy to the House GOP leadership, it seems unlikely that he will be the great mediator of the congressional split between Democrats and Republicans.

"Mr. McCarthy votes pretty conservatively, so it is not like they are taking a sharp turn. He has been aligned with Mr. Cantor pretty faithfully, not faithfully necessarily to Cantor but to the principles that they share," Hoyer said. "I haven't analyzed whether there was a discrepancy in their voting pattern. My gut tells me there has not been, so I don't know that there is going to be a real change."

Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.



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