Kevin McCarthy

His rapid rise in House leadership has stalled, but allies including Paul Ryan are standing by him.

By John Bresnahan
11/05/15 – 02:56 PM EST
Updated 11/05/15 04:16 PM EST

For the first time in his political career, Kevin McCarthy has tasted defeat. And for the first time, the House majority leader, who rocketed to No. 2 in leadership faster than many members land a committee chairmanship, is going to have to be content to stay where he is, possibly for years.

When McCarthy ditched his bid for speaker last month — in the face of fierce opposition from the right, a major gaffe about his party’s probe of the Benghazi attacks, and rumors about his personal life — some of his Republican colleagues wondered whether the majority leader would or even could stay in Congress. One top Republican said it was “50-50” that McCarthy would retire, and questioned whether he “really wants to be here now.”

But long before his aborted bid for the speakership, the affable California Republican built up a deep reservoir of good will within the GOP Conference. And he appears to still have the confidence of leadership — starting with new Speaker Paul Ryan — and rank-and-file members to remain majority leader.

“It’s clear that [McCarthy] is fully on board with the speaker’s desire to shake up the way things are done around here, and his counsel has been indispensable as we’ve worked to get this new speakership started off on the right foot,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for Ryan. “It’s going to be a great partnership for a long time.”

In an interview with POLITICO this week, McCarthy asserted that his decision to drop his speaker campaign actually strengthened his position within the conference, a view his allies share. He said the move allowed Republicans, already reeling from John Boehner’s resignation, to avoid an ugly fight between mainstream members and hard-liners, and to coalesce around Ryan.

“If you go back and look at my decision not to run [for speaker], I think we’ll look at history and say that’s the time we were able to come back together,” McCarthy said in his first floor office in the Capitol. “We had to face the challenges of where we are and where we’re gonna go. And it gave us that moment.”

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