As Kevin McCarthy got pushed out of his job as House speaker, in part by colleagues who helped put him on the dais nine months ago, one of his top lieutenants stepped in to preside — at least temporarily. North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry took the gavel after Tuesday’s vote to oust McCarthy — a historic first for a House speaker. According to House rules, McHenry was picked from a list McCarthy was required to keep and will serve essentially as the acting speaker — known as speaker pro tempore — until the chamber figures out who will be the next leader.
For McHenry, who stands out with his signature bow ties, the interim job marks his most public position to date during his 10 terms in the House. But he had already risen in stature and prominence within the House. McHenry was one of McCarthy’s closest allies, and helped him win the speaker’s contest in January and negotiate the debt limit deal that McCarthy made with President Joe Biden earlier this year.
He helped McCarthy keep his fragile majority together until it came apart following the decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown. He gave a floor speech Tuesday supporting McCarthy.
Dee Stewart, McHenry’s longtime political consultant and his first chief of staff on Capitol Hill, said it doesn’t surprise him that, for now, his close friend is presiding over one of the world’s most important legislative bodies. “He’s demonstrated a tremendous acumen as a member of Congress and is widely respected by most everyone who deals with him,” said Stewart, who first met McHenry in 1996 at a convention of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans.
One of McHenry’s first acts in the temporary position was to oust Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi from her honorary office at the Capitol while she was away in California to pay tribute to the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Pelosi called the eviction “a sharp departure from tradition.” But she added: “Office space doesn’t matter to me, but it seems to be important to them. Now that the new Republican Leadership has settled this important matter, let’s hope they get to work on what’s truly important for the American people.”
McHenry, who will turn 48 later this month, grew up around the Charlotte area. He went to North Carolina State University before graduating from Belmont Abbey College, a small Catholic school just west of Charlotte. While still in college, he ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat in 1998, but he won four years later at age 27. McHenry had worked for a Washington-based media consulting firm, for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, and as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Labor.
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