We’re heading into day four of the vote for Speaker of the House. As of this writing, Kevin McCarthy has lost eleven times. This morning, though, the media says there’s a framework of a deal. We’ll see, but if it happens, North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry will get a lot of credit. He’s been central to the negotiations with the GOP rebels and even suggested as an alternative to McCarthy.
For a lot of people, the negotiations are their introduction to McHenry. He’s generally kept his head down in recent years and become a mover behind the scenes. He also is the only Republican from North Carolina to have voted to certify the vote two years ago today. He should get credit for that stands.
However, McHenry didn’t start his career as a level headed politician. He began as a firebrand and rebel himself. In the 2004 Republican primary to replace retiring Congressman Cass Ballenger, the GOP establishment had settled on a popular Catawba County sheriff. McHenry, a 29-year-old, one-term state house member, had different ideas. He put together an aggressive grassroots campaign that won by just 85 votes in a runoff, but his tactics ruffled some feathers and he sparred with the Republican establishment in the district for years afterward.
Once he went to Congress, McHenry continued his aggressive demeanor. He became a favorite on cable news shows for bashing Democrats. He got into spats with Barney Frank when they served on the House Financial Services Committee. At one point, he called a Elizabeth Warren a liar for saying she had a scheduling agreement with his committee. When it turned out Warren was correct and McHenry wrong, he refused to apologize.
After the Warren episode, McHenry started to fade into the background. He had less public disputes and he mostly disappeared from the cable news circuit. I suspect somebody in the GOP caucus warned him that he was less effective as bomb thrower and could gather more power as a dealmaker.
Since then, McHenry has moved up into leadership roles. He became chief deputy whip under Steve Scalise in the wake of the 2014 Republican wave. He’s been ranking member of the Financial Services Committee and will its chair if a speaker is ever determined.
McHenry could come out of the Speaker battle with more power within the Republican caucus. While he’s now a McCarthy lieutenant, he started his career like the rabble-rousers he’s trying to corral. He clearly understands their mindset and he also knows how to play the inside game. He could end up a winner regardless of who ends up Speaker.