Kevin McCarthy looks back at career, including historic removal as House speaker

The California Republican also said Trump "needs to stop" focusing on revenge.

December 10, 2023, 5:05 PM

Rep. Kevin McCarthy is reflecting on his congressional career and his ouster earlier this year from the House speakership, an inglorious twist that helped usher in his upcoming resignation.

In an interview with CBS News that aired Sunday, McCarthy, a California Republican, suggested he'd always recognized he might not keep his gavel as long as he'd like but that he enjoyed the job while it lasted in a place he likened to less of a "country club" than a "truck stop."

The House is "a microcosm of society, so everything good and bad in society is gonna be here," he said.

"I never said I didn't want this job. I love the challenge. I knew at the time I probably wouldn't be able to end the job, not on my terms. I knew who I was dealing with. I think history will say they were wrong in that decision," McCarthy said, referencing the eight Republicans who helped engineer his demotion -- the first time a speaker had ever been removed that way.

Still, he projected confidence about his track record, saying, "I've had the privilege of being here 17 years, and I got to be a part of building two majorities."

"I come from California. I grew up in a family that were Democrats. I applied for [an] internship in a congressional seat -- I got turned down," he said. "And now, I got elected to that seat I couldn't get an internship for and I got to be the 55th speaker of the House. Tell me any other country is that possible in."

He wouldn't, however, totally rule out supporting primary bids against his eight Republicans detractors next year, including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, only saying he's "not focused on that."

McCarthy's speakership started on the rocks in early 2023 when it took Republicans 15 rounds to hand him the gavel over the objections of a group of rebels, led by Gaetz, who remained a fierce critic.

The Californian ultimately faced a motion for his removal after agreeing to a temporary government funding bill that didn't include the significant spending cuts that hard-liners, again led by Gaetz, had demanded.

When asked in his CBS interview what he thinks of Gaetz, McCarthy simply said, "I think history will show who Matt Gaetz really is."

PHOTO: Former Speaker of the House McCarthy (R-CA) talks to members of the media as he arrives to a candidate forum with House Republicans to hear from members running for Speaker of House on Oct. 10, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) talks to members of the media as he arrives to a candidate forum with House Republicans to hear from members running for US Speaker of House in the Longworth House Office Building on Oct. 10, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

McCarthy's future is now unclear as he leaves his seat later this month, more than a year before his term is up. His exit also weakens his party's already narrow majority, with just a few votes to spare.

However, he did make clear his views on former President Donald Trump, whom he had once criticized in the wake of Jan. 6 but then embraced.

In his exit interview with CBS, he endorsed Trump's comeback bid for the White House -- "if [Joe] Biden stays as the nominee for the Democrats, I believe Donald Trump will win" -- and said he would consider joining a future Trump administration in some Cabinet role.

"If I'm the best person for the job, yes," he said when asked about such a possibility. "We worked together to win the majority. But we also have a relationship where we're very honest with each other."

Still, McCarthy said Trump would be wise to tweak his 2024 campaign messaging, focusing more on "restoring" the country rather than the "retribution" he's been previewing.

"What President Trump needs to do in this campaign, it needs to be about rebuilding, restoring, renewing America. It can't be about revenge," McCarthy said. "He needs to stop that."

"But that's him. I'm not going to change who I am, and I'm not going to stop giving him the advice," McCarthy added. "And, look, I lost the job of speaker. Maybe I don't have the best advice."