California Politics: The unlikely friendship between Republican Kevin McCarthy and Democrat Karen Bass

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Karen Bass embrace in the Capitol's Emancipation Hall in Washington in 2019.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Karen Bass embrace during a ceremony marking the 400th anniversary of the first recorded forced arrival of enslaved African people in the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall in Washington in 2019.
(Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call)

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Years ago when I was reporting a profile on Kevin McCarthy — the Bakersfield Republican who is now the speaker of the House — I was surprised to learn that he was friends with Karen Bass, the Los Angeles Democrat who is now mayor.

They had met in Sacramento in the early 2000s when both were members of the Assembly. After McCarthy was elected to Congress, Bass became Assembly speaker and found herself lobbying McCarthy as the Great Recession hit and California’s budget went bust.

“He was receptive, but he also told me the reality of the partisanship here,” Bass told me when I interviewed her in Washington in 2017. “I didn’t know this world.”

A few years later, Bass was elected to Congress. Republicans controlled the House and she turned to McCarthy for help building bipartisan alliances, especially in her effort to provide greater federal assistance to children in foster care.

“I needed kind of a blessing,” Bass said. “I needed to be blessed by the leader in order to get Republicans to participate in the foster youth caucus. And he was able to help me.”


Hi, I’m Laurel Rosenhall, The Times’ Sacramento bureau chief, here to share some fascinating stories about California Politics.

An affinity spanning two decades and two coasts

As it became clear more recently that Bass and McCarthy would take leadership positions on opposite coasts — and opposite ends of the political spectrum — I thought the time was right for a story about their unlikely friendship. Times reporters Melanie Mason and Ben Oreskes ran with the idea, and delivered this terrific article. Here’s a snippet:

It’s hard to imagine in these times of bitter partisan antagonism, but the top House Republican and the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles are friends. Not in the Washington sense, where “my friend” borders on insult, but a genuine affinity that has spanned two decades and both coasts.

The next two years will test whether that kind of personal chemistry can still yield substantive accomplishments. Bass’ hope to win additional federal support for the city’s battle against homelessness could be stymied by McCarthy’s political vulnerabilities to an ascendantRepublican right wing that sees deep-blue cities largely as rhetorical punching bags.

McCarthy has kept up the partisan attacks on Democrats, including fellow Californians such as Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin). Still, Bass, who returned to Washington this week for the first time since becoming mayor, is undeterred.

When McCarthy finally won the speakership, after a protracted15 rounds of balloting, Bass texted congratulations and mentioned her upcoming visit.

“I’m coming to collect,” she told him.

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A notebook full of agony, anger and hope

Here’s another yummy read you’ll find only in the L.A. Times: A look inside the notebook kept by one of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s aides as he toured California on a quest to alleviate poverty.

Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton who is now Newsom’s advisor on economic mobility, met with Californians up and down the state who struggle to make ends meet. Times reporter Mackenzie Mays followed along, telling the stories of the people he encountered through the notes Tubbs jots in a simple gray notebook:


Along with “agony,” he has scribbled down broad thoughts and directives like “shelter is foundational” and “rewrite history.”

One note reads simply, “everyone is maxed out.”

He has had emotional epiphanies. He draws an arrow to how one woman describes her life — “living just to die”— and adds his own reaction beside it: “OMG!”

Tubbs lost reelection as mayor in 2020 but is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party: young, ambitious and well-connected. His own story of growing up poor in Stockton with a single mother and an incarcerated father, making it to Stanford and then returning to his hometown to become the city’s youngest mayor at age 26 has attracted attention from Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. Be sure to read the story here.

Keeping up with Newsom and the Legislature

Biden visits California to survey storm damage with Newsom
The visit marks a break in the subtle political tension between the California governor seeking a higher national profile and a president who has yet to publicly announce his plans to run for reelection in 2024.

L.A. County on track to join Newsom’s sweeping mental health plan a year early
Supervisors are split over whether the county should launch CARE Court ahead of schedule.

California vs. Florida: A tale of two Americas
The governors of California and Florida — two of the nation’s biggest ideological rival states — are leading in opposite directions. Both may run for president.

California lawmaker joins other blue states in latest attempt to tax rich people
In the absence of a federal wealth tax, Democratic lawmakers are pushing them in states including California, New York and Hawaii. This is the third year California Assemblyman Alex Lee has introduced a wealth tax.

A new California housing law has done little to encourage building, report says
A California law passed in 2021 was supposed to make it easier for homeowners to build duplexes, but few are taking advantage of it.

Skelton: California has lots of catching up to do on flood management — with or without climate change
California has added little to its once-prized water system since 1960, and the population has more than doubled, columnist George Skelton writes.

Skelton: Have no Prop. 1 water projects been built in California? No, but they are moving slowly
Republicans last week blasted Democrats for alleged inaction on the 2014 bond act, Proposition 1, making some good points while being off base on their basic premise, columnist George Skelton writes.

Man’s death after tasing reignites debate over LAPD’s role in traffic enforcement
State Sen. Steven Bradford has introduced legislation that would restrict pretextual stops to instances in which an officer has reasonable suspicion that a search will uncover evidence of a crime.

California Senate’s new health chair to prioritize mental health and homelessness
State Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman will focus on expanding mental health services and moving homeless people into housing and treatment.

California legislators demand Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel remove Dana White as UFC president
The Legislative Women’s Caucus responds after a video went viral showing UFC head Dana White slapping his wife.

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