McCarthy promises to immediately usher in a new operating culture on the House floor. “Any member will be able to offer an amendment on a spending bill,” he says. “We will open up the floor, not only for both parties, but for the American people to get involved in the process. That’ll lead to the best legislative product. From cameras in the Rules Committee to putting bills online at least 72 hours before a vote, we will enable people to know what’s happening, read the bills, and understand the debate. Better ideas will emerge, and the process will keep leadership power in check. It’ll be a healthy change.”
McCarthy emphasizes that both Boehner and Cantor have been nothing but supportive of his sunshine-centric approach. “Looking at how many freshmen there are, and knowing so many of them, it’s clear that they are the closest thing to a direct message from the American people. We get that,” he says.
“The House was designed by the Founding Fathers to be the revolutionary body, because we’re up for election every two years,” McCarthy continues. “We do not want to make the mistakes of the past where Washington becomes a body of seniority. These new voices will be heard. I give Leader Boehner a lot of credit for expanding the role of freshmen inside the conference, further than I’ve ever seen.” He points to freshmen-elect Tim Scott of South Carolina and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, who were recently tapped for leadership positions, as prime examples of how GOP leaders are responding to the political winds.
Still, McCarthy’s enthusiasm for the incoming class will soon be tested as he begins to whip votes on raising the debt ceiling, extending the Bush-era tax cuts, and other big-ticket budget items. “Look, you want to be able to have a conference that is like a family, where you can have an open discussion,” he says. “At this point, I really think that we are united, especially when it comes to jobs, spending, and opening up Washington.”
McCarthy, though only wrapping up his second term, begins his new gig with ample experience in navigating tricky political waters. For the past two years, he has served as chief deputy whip under Cantor, learning the fine art of counting noses. The pair have shared Capitol office space and worked closely together on whipping high-profile bills, from the “stimulus” to Obamacare, that Republicans opposed with near-unanimity.
“Eric and I are very close,” McCarthy says. “We met each other before coming to Congress. I think our personalities work well together. Eric has taught me that you don’t just sit and say ‘no,’ you come up with your own ideas as well, to see if they’re better. For so long, I’ve watched Republicans play defense. But you don’t win a game by just playing defense: You have to play offense and solve problems.”
McCarthy also counts Boehner as a friend and mentor. Before coming to Congress, McCarthy was district director for now-retired congressman Bill Thomas, a former chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. In February 2006, in the wake of DeLay’s resignation as majority leader, Thomas delivered the nominating speech for Boehner as the Ohioan battled then-representative Roy Blunt of Missouri for the now-vacant position. Thanks in part to the maneuvers of Thomas, Boehner won by a 122 to 109 vote, stunning the Hill.