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Kevin McCarthy: 'I don't want to become Washington'

Conservatives get early taste of folksier, new House majority leader
Kevin McCarthy plays up humble roots as he gets ready to become House majority leader

Not much has changed for Kevin McCarthy since his election Thursday as the new House majority leader.

Instead of a major celebration, he spent the night with his family, which had just arrived in Washington for a previously scheduled weekend event. Friday morning he had a meeting with House Speaker John A. Boehner and other leaders before casting a series of votes on a spending bill.

In remarks later to a gathering of religious-conservative activists across town, he said he hoped his new role wouldn't change him.

"I don't want to become Washington," the Bakersfield Republican said. "I want Kern County views to [come to] Washington."

The Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference offered a glimpse at the House GOP's new, folksier No. 2. He played up his humble roots as the son of a firefighter and grandson of a cattle rancher who now holds the seat of a congressman who at one time had rejected him for an internship.

"Only in America do we have this," he said.

McCarthy won't formally take his new role until July 31, just as the House breaks for a monthlong recess that for many will be heavy on campaign events. The transition period is expected to be seamless -- McCarthy won't even be changing offices. Aides say he prefers the current ground-floor suite he uses as the GOP whip to the second-floor offices with sweeping views of the National Mall used by the current Majority Leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.

To the extent that there is a change in the role, it's more about style than substance. Where Cantor styled himself as a policy expert, McCarthy's emphasis is on team building, including morning bike rides and trips to the movies with House members, and building good will with many in his conference, across the ideological spectrum.

"He always keeps it fun. He reminds us the work we're doing is serious but we don't have to be miserable all the time," said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.).

"I think one of the things that's missing in Washington is relationship-building. People don't know each other well enough any more. That's across the aisle as much as within our conference."

McCarthy's speech Friday did hit briefly on some key policy points for the party. He spoke of the danger posed by the national debt and the broader growth of government.

"When government grows, it breaks the family," he said.

And he cited the example of Ronald Reagan in projecting American strength on the world stage. He cited Reagan's simple message when asked how he would confront the Soviet Union during the Cold War: "We win, they lose."

Conservative lawmakers will be watching McCarthy closely between now and November, when he and the entire leadership team will once again face election to retain their posts. So will Democrats, who will likely pressure the Californian to push harder than his predecessor had for votes on immigration reform.

In a statement congratulating McCarthy, his sole challenger for the job said Thursday that while his campaign was unsuccessful, he heard a desire for change.

"Everyone I spoke to, whether they voted for Kevin or me, agrees that we can do better," said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). "The process needs to be improved, the committees need to work their will, and our members need to feel more relevant." 

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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