Kevin McCarthy bid farewell on Thursday to the House he’s called home since 2007, capping a tumultuous final year that saw him eke out the speakership, then get ousted and eventually announce his resignation.
The California Republican, who spent the majority of his time in Congress in leadership positions, announced earlier this month his plans to resign from office by the end of year, making Thursday his last legislative day in the House.
Looking back on a brief tenure as speaker mostly spent hamstrung by a slim majority and a renegade faction of his own party — who fought him on lifting the debt ceiling and on appropriations bills, and who ultimately ousted him — McCarthy chose to keep it positive.
He listed off what he sees as his top achievements, including creating a select committee focused on the threat of China and overturning a Washington, D.C., crime bill. Faced with a House Republican Conference that “looked like one of the most restrictive country clubs in America,” he tried to expand the party’s reach, he said.
“There’s so much we had been able to accomplish in a short amount of time,” McCarthy told a mostly empty chamber. The small group of Republicans who spoke on the floor oscillated between highlighting the “happy warrior” persona McCarthy cultivated — they lauded him for his perseverance and called him a “political mastermind” — and painting him as a tragic figure.
Democrats, meanwhile, were not quite so generous.
Here are six things lawmakers said about McCarthy on Thursday as he headed for the exits:
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry compared him to an ‘elite power athlete’
McHenry, who briefly served as speaker pro tem after McCarthy was removed, gave a glowing review of his longtime colleague and the political expertise he said he saw McCarthy display behind the scenes.
“Kevin McCarthy’s relentless perseverance, keen insights and unmatched knowledge of the personalities of the House were amazing to witness firsthand,” the North Carolina Republican said. “While the public saw the 15 rounds of votes in January [and] the historic spending cuts of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, privately what I got to see was the legislative equivalent of an elite power athlete.”
McHenry called McCarthy a “legislative craftsman,” and described him as a principled leader who “lived his values.”
“He was a great speaker — success after success after success for this whole year, when Republicans in Washington were outnumbered by a Democratic Senate and a Democrat in the White House, with a very narrow majority. We got big things done,” McHenry said.
Rep. Tom McClintock said he was thwarted by ‘eight sad and pathetic mediocrities’
McClintock, a fellow California Republican, remarked on the “irony” of McCarthy getting the job he’d “spent his life preparing for” only to lose it 269 days later.
“Kevin McCarthy spent his life preparing for the job that he held for just 269 days. For decades, he devoted all of his energies and skills to build one of the most formidable political organizations of our time that ultimately took back the House last year,” McClintock said.
McClintock credited McCarthy with reopening the Capitol complex to the public at the start of the 118th Congress and launching investigations into supposed government corruption, before being removed from the speakership in a historic floor vote on Oct. 3.
“His speakership ended on that day, not because of the Republican conference but because of eight sad and pathetic mediocrities nursing petty personal grudges. As Shakespeare said, ‘This house is turned upside down since Robin Ostler died,’” said McClintock, citing “Henry IV” as he bashed the eight members of his party who voted to boot McCarthy from the speaker’s chair.
Majority Whip Tom Emmer said he ‘did not deserve any of that’
Emmer also lamented McCarthy’s fate.
“I’ve seen him do the right thing, no matter the cost, because he truly believes in the greatness of this country and this institution. I’ll be brutally honest … it was hard to watch as things played out the way they did. Kevin McCarthy did not deserve any of that treatment,” the Minnesota Republican said. “But no matter what, he has always risen above the fold, handled every situation with grace and put whatever is in the best interest of America first.”
Rep. French Hill quoted Shakespeare
Hill kept the Shakespearean theme going, saying he was there to “praise McCarthy, not bury him.”
“As Shakespeare talks about, he too has suffered the slings and arrows that life brings in the public world, in politics, in this Capitol, in this House. But he’s handled those every single day with grace, with humor, with leadership, exhibiting his commitment to being that happy warrior that we all know and love,” the Arkansas Republican said.
Former Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer offered thanks
Hoyer was the only Democrat to say goodbye to McCarthy on the House floor.
“We spend a lot of time in this House focusing on that which we disagree on. I think if we spent more time focusing on what we have been able to do together and agree on, we’d be a better House,” the Maryland Democrat said. “So I rise not to talk about the disagreements that the speaker and I had. We had many differences. We’re different parties. We have different perspectives. But I want to rise and thank Speaker McCarthy for that on which we could agree.”
Rep. Sean Casten turned to ‘Hamlet’
Other Democrats were less diplomatic as they reflected on McCarthy’s tenure.
“Congress has had plenty of members with unfettered, venal ambition. And we’ve had our share of idiots,” Casten of Illinois wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “But never has empty ambition and malignant stupidity come together with such force as it did in Kevin McCarthy. Farewell, sweet cotton-headed prince.”