WASHINGTON — Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will not seek another term in Congress, ending a tumultuous two-decade career in public office that was marked by a swift ascent and descent in Washington GOP leadership. He said he would leave the House by the end of the year.
McCarthy announced his decision days before the state's deadline to file to run again for his Bakersfield-based seat — and just nine weeks after bitter infighting among House Republicans led to his historic Oct. 3 ouster from the leadership post. His departure opens the door for what could become a contested House race in California's heavily Republican Central Valley.
McCarthy's retirement from Congress continues the steep decline of California's political power in Washington, where just a handful of lawmakers from the state remain in leadership posts. The delegation lost decades of experience and seniority after Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's death in September. San Francisco's Rep. Nancy Pelosi stepped down from the House's Democratic leadership in January. Only two Californians remain in leadership positions: Reps. Pete Aguilar of Redlands, chair of the Democratic Caucus; and Ted Lieu of Torrance, the Democrats' vice chair.
McCarthy's retirement is also a blow to GOP fundraising efforts. Last election cycle, he helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Republican campaigns.
Florida Republican Matt Gaetz was leader of the eight hard-right lawmakers who forced McCarthy out as speaker with the help of Democratic votes. The group had griped that McCarthy worked too closely with Democrats.
McCarthy's reliance on bipartisanship to advance legislation near the end of his career stands in contrast to the partisanship he demonstrated when he first came to Washington in 2007.
The Californian was elected to his House seat in 2006, and quickly climbed the ranks of his party's leadership after demonstrating his fundraising prowess. His first bid for the speakership, in 2015, collapsed in part because more-conservative tea party Republicans withheld their support.
After he courted the far right and became an ardent backer of then-President Donald Trump ahead of the 2018 midterm election, McCarthy was elected leader of the House's GOP minority.
But even after Republicans reclaimed the House in the 2022 midterm election, McCarthy struggled to secure the speakership, the chamber's top post. In January, he needed 15 tries to win enough votes from his party to clinch the speaker's gavel. In exchange for their votes, he agreed to make it easier for any lawmaker to call for a vote on removing him.
As speaker, McCarthy scored few victories for his party. He opened an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden at the behest of far-right Republicans, but he never wielded the power that past speakers such as Pelosi had. He was unable to rally his steeply divided conference on an array of issues, forcing him to rely on Democrats' votes to raise the nation's debt ceiling in May and avert a government shutdown in September.
It was these moves that enraged Gaetz and other GOP rebels. Once ousted, McCarthy declined to run for speaker again, and the party finally settled on Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson after weeks of infighting.
Johnson has also struggled to unify the Republican caucus — he relied on Democratic votes to avert a government shutdown in mid-November — but GOP hard-liners have so far mostly spared him their wrath.
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