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Weighing California's Political Influence After McCarthy's Resignation


Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced this past Wednesday he is resigning from Congress before his term is up. McCarthy, of course, was booted as House speaker by his own party earlier this year. But his departure from Congress marks another moment of California's clout in the Capitol taking a hit. It comes about a year after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped away from Democratic House leadership, and it comes as California Republicans continue to struggle for relevance in the nation's largest state. To talk more about McCarthy's departure and what it means, we are joined now by Scott Shafer of member station KQED. Scott, I know you're a San Francisco Giants fan.


DETROW: I'm sorry you had to listen to that last segment.

SHAFER: Oh, my God. Ohtani. Don't get me started. You're killing me.

DETROW: On McCarthy, though, how will his absence affect California Republicans?

SHAFER: Yeah, well, Scott, the most immediate impact could be on fundraising. McCarthy has, as you know, a solid relationship with the state party leadership and with big donors. And, you know, getting people to ante up big bucks to help Republicans in a deep-blue state like California is just a heavy lift because, frankly, it's not a great investment. That said, McCarthy does have millions of dollars left in his campaign accounts, and he could steer some of that to California Republicans. And there are five or six vulnerable Republicans in California in House districts won by Joe Biden, and they could use the help.

DETROW: Yeah. Is this another moment in the wane of a certain type of conservatism?

SHAFER: Yeah, in a way, it is. You know, going back to his days in the state legislature, McCarthy had been known as a conservative, for sure, but also to be pragmatic, somebody who could work with Democrats. And ultimately, in D.C., that was his downfall as speaker, you know, because some of the far right of the party just think compromise is a dirty word.


SHAFER: So clearly, the GOP has moved to the right of McCarthy since he arrived in D.C. in 2007. And, you know, he's tried to keep up. He embraced the Tea Party and people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who's really outside the mainstream. And then, of course, McCarthy tied himself to Donald Trump, all of it to fulfill his longtime dream of becoming speaker, which, as we know, didn't end well.

DETROW: It did not. But let's think about California's influence in Congress for a moment because there's been a big shift, and it's not just on the Republican side. California Democrats have also recently lost some veteran voices. What does that mean for their party?

SHAFER: Well, you know, having two consecutive House speakers from one state was unprecedented in modern times, but that's what happened when Democrat Nancy Pelosi was followed by Republican Kevin McCarthy. Now, Pelosi still wields a lot of influence in her party behind the scenes, especially as a fundraiser and a strategist. But we also lost the seniority of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died this year. So now we have two relatively inexperienced U.S. senators in a body where seniority matters a lot. So at the same time that's happening, there's been a wave of retirements from longtime members of the House, like Anna Eshoo from Silicon Valley. She's leaving after 30 years. And then you've got three other House members running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Feinstein before she died - Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. All of them will be out of the House. And assuming one becomes senator, they're not going to have any seniority.

DETROW: When I was working with you a decade ago, we would talk a lot about this whole generation of politicians in California kind of waiting in the wings for their moment because of so many figures who were holding power in the state and holding it for a long time. Is that moment happening now?

SHAFER: Yeah, it really is. As you know, no Republican has won a statewide election here since Arnold Schwarzenegger did it in 2006. And if you look at the Republican congressional delegation, there's not a lot of people there with a lot of influence. Democrats, on the other hand, you've got Pete Aguilar from Southern California moving up the ranks. And, of course, we got Vice President Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom's profiles rising nationally. So the state is still going to have plenty of clout, maybe a little less than we did before.

DETROW: That's Scott Shafer of member station KQED. Scott, good to talk to you.

SHAFER: Good to talk to you, Scott.


DETROW: And this is not the California report from 2013, though it sounds like it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Scott Shafer