Congratulations are in order for Rep. Kevin McCarthy. On Thursday in Washington, D.C., the GOP Congressman from Bakersfield completed the biggest leap of his political career when his fellow Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives elected him majority leader, replacing recently ousted Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia.
McCarthy, 49, not only is the youngest person ever picked for the job, he's also the first from California. It's a feat most of McCarthy's constituents should take notice of, and not just because he's a hometown guy. It's an incredible opportunity for McCarthy to lead.
Counting heads to guess which side will win a vote (as McCarthy did as House whip) is not leading. Making vague pronouncements without direction or visible, plausible results is not leading. McCarthy has a golden opportunity, and we hope he understands as much.
But McCarthy's rise to GOP prominence won't exclude him from his obligations to his constituents. His refreshingly candid, pre-vote interview with The Californian Tuesday seems to show he knows that. That's good, because his new gig also doesn't guarantee him safety from a fate similar to Cantor's.
McCarthy has long been a target of immigration activists, who feel he hasn't used his Congressional clout to push for reform. But like Cantor, McCarthy could be in danger of turning off still-influential tea partiers and other hardline Republicans because of fence-straddling. Neither Cantor nor McCarthy said they supported amnesty. McCarthy has said he'd be open to allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S., while Cantor expressed interest in providing citizenship to younger immigrants. Here is one area were McCarthy can exhibit a political will to lead, to bring forth bills and discussions in the House that can be productive. There could even be compromise. To those who loathe that word: Sorry, that's sometimes the reality of Congress.
As for McCarthy's political career path, it may hinge on what's most important to him: If it's serving his conservative cohorts as majority leader -- and potentially reaching other GOP plateaus -- he may be right to stick to more-conservative, tea-party-friendly stances on immigration, government spending and other issues. If McCarthy's goals are more centered, however -- and if they include some bridge-building with Democrats -- what could be good for Congressional productivity might not be so good for McCarthy.
After all, McCarthy will still have to appease his valley constituents before thinking of ascending to greater heights within the Republican Party. Some might think that means stalling -- or killing -- California's controversial high-speed rail project. It likely could mean concocting a way to pump more water into the valley's thirsty agriculture industry. Whatever the case, McCarthy should keep a pragmatic approach in mind. He's running essentially unopposed for his comfy 23rd District seat this November (aside from a to-be-determined write-in candidate) and is likely to remain in Washington, D.C., for the foreseeable future.
It's worth repeating, however, that Eric Cantor's ouster is proof that no one's job is safe. In this fragmented political climate, a House leadership position doesn't necessarily impress the folks back home. Kern County's mainstream Republicans exude a certain pride of ownership in McCarthy, but Cantor's constituents likely felt the same about him. Those weekly trips back home McCarthy has promised might come in handy.