The generally mild-mannered and California cool McCarthy had his Irish up, saying “If I sound angry, I am. My constituents are angry. It’s clear to us that this bill is wrong on the merits. And they have responded with a single word: enough!”
He spoke for eight hours, well into Friday morning, delaying passage of the massive measure. It may have been a symbolic stalling tactic, but it also sent a message to voters and to his own caucus: it’s time to fight.
Fieryness doesn’t seem to come naturally to the would-be speaker of the next Congress, but it is welcome and part of a broader pattern. Just Wednesday he marshalled the opposition to the censure of Rep. Paul Gosar over an anime video. He didn’t defend the, frankly tasteless, video but he did point out the hypocrisy of Democrats who applauded Rep. Maxine Waters instructions for people to follow and harass Trump administration officials and supporters.
The knock on McCarthy from some on the right, mainly those most closely aligned with Trump, is that he’s soft. They want him to punish the 13 Republicans who voted for Biden’s infrastructure bill. They want him to block everything. But he presides over a nascent and fragile “new right” coalition. This is a GOP of more workers, more minorities, and more regional factions.
Two months ago I was in McCarthy’s district. Bakersfield, California. Hobnobbing about in the environs of the old Padre Hotel, I asked some locals about him. They all knew him, like in some personal way, they all liked him, but they all also had some bone to pick.
Some thought he was too hard on Trump, some too easy, and it came from all sides. But they’d still vote for him. That’s kind of the whole job he has right now. Get all of the factions pulling the GOP lever in just under a year.
Everybody who reads the tea leaves these days is looking at the bottom of the cup and seeing neon flashing lights that spell out “red wave in 2022.” But I’m a Philadelphia sports fan and I know that you have never won anything until you win it.
Last year, the morning after Election Day it was more or less assumed the GOP would hold the senate by winning at least one Georgia runoff. That didn’t happen.
All of this is to say that the best things House Republicans can do right now is get along. As the Morrissey lyric goes, “why waste good time fighting the people you like?” And there are signs it is happening. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., tweeted out support of McCarthy’s Parents Bill of Rights this week, and in general, like his constituents, his caucus likes him.
McCarthy’s new more aggressive demeanor is the starter’s pistol of the 2022 midterm. Whatever the future holds for Build Back Better in the clutches of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the lines in the House are drawn.
The Democrats favor massive inflationary spending when nobody can afford a pound of bacon, and Republicans oppose it. That’s it. That’s the message.
McCarthy has been a steady hand, now he needs to be more of a leader and a fighter. If his recent actions are any indication he knows this and is ready for political battle.