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Feehery: How come-back kid McCarthy can now rule and win

Better late than never.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is styling himself as “the come-back kid.”

He’s more like the salesman who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Colleges should teach a course on resilience and use McCarthy as a case study.

What he pulled off was truly remarkable and I, for one, didn’t think he would get there. 

Bill Clinton was the last politician who styled himself as the come-back kid, and there is a certain symmetry between the two. Neither Clinton nor McCarthy are trusted by the ideological bases of their respective political parties, both acceded to their offices with less than an overwhelming mandate, and both are political survivors who never quit despite tough odds.

Clinton was a master political communicator who understood how to both “triangulate” and “feel the pain” of the voters. 

Those are skills that McCarthy will need to quickly learn if he is to survive as Speaker of the House. 

The good news for McCarthy is that the multiple ballots which eventually gave him the gavel have lowered the expectations for what this Congress can possibly achieve. My old boss, Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would always preach the mantra of “under-promise and over-deliver.” Nobody will believe that this Congress will do anything, so that’s a pretty good baseline to start from.

McCarthy has assembled a good staff; he has a solid leadership team, and he has clearly demonstrated that he has the majority of the Republican majority supporting him. 

For the next several months, House Republicans should focus on putting legislation on the floor that unites them and divides the Democrats. Fixing the border, facilitating oil and gas permits domestically, promoting economic growth through tax and regulatory reform, helping families with the high cost of raising children, gutting wasteful and woke government spending — these are issues that Republicans all support. All of these issues will put the Democrats on the defensive. I would stay away from abortion as an issue: Leave it to the states to decide.

These bills might die in the Senate but, then again, many of these policies are popular with the American people. 

Pundits and prognosticators are terrified of what will happen if the debt limit is breached. McCarthy should appoint a Biden debt-limit task force that would include members from all wings of the party to come up with a strategy. I personally think that since it was President Biden who went on the spending spree, his party should be the ones to provide the votes to increase the debt limit. Let them pay the political consequences (if voters care one way or another).

The budget is the thorniest part of the legislative process because no matter what the Republicans do, the Democrats will oppose them. And from what I can tell, Republicans aren’t anywhere on the same page when it comes to how much spending they want to cut.

Instead of doing a real budget, Republicans could just deem the spending allocations for all the Appropriations subcommittees at current levels and then insist that the Senate follow suit. The upper chamber doesn’t usually take direction well, so it will be interesting to see how the House can get the Senate to actually pass its appropriations bills. My prediction: two years of continuing resolutions. The defense hawks will squeal, but I don’t know how you can get Democrats to agree to military increases and domestic spending cuts.

I don’t know the extent of the concessions that McCarthy made to the rebels, but the Speaker only has so many things he or she can give away and those things usually involve the Rules Committee, the Steering Committee and the tax and spending committees. In the old days, when speakers ruled the Rules Committee with an iron fist, appointed all members to all committees, and controlled all taxing and spending through the Ways and Means Committee, they had real power. But those days are long gone and now just about everything the Speaker does is a matter of negotiation. 

McCarthy proved he could negotiate his way to the Speaker’s chair, by a combination of charm, brute force, and never-ending patience. Indeed, he was the come-back kid. That resilience will come in handy the next two years.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).  

Tags Bill Clinton Debt limit Dennis Hastert energy policy House Speaker vote Kevin McCarthy motion to vacate chair Spending

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