“It’s kind of bittersweet,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday. “It’s not the timing I wanted.”
For most of his life, McCarthy had his eyes on the top House leadership post that’s second in line for the presidency. After being elected to Congress in 2006, he worked his way up the ranks. For five years he served as leader of the Republican Party, where he was considered a fundraising powerhouse that helped clinch the GOP majority last year.
But all of that ended in October when Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a member McCarthy had once backed during his primary, made a motion for the speaker’s ouster as punishment for using Democratic votes to avoid a government shutdown.
“There’s people who study that type of crazy mind,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday about the Florida Republican. “I think from that perspective, history will prove right what we did.”
Earlier this month, McCarthy announced he would be leaving office at the end of the year “to serve America in new ways.” Thursday was the last day the House was in session for the year, and it was also McCarthy’s last day as a member on Capitol Hill.
It was a routine day for McCarthy despite its significance: He cast his vote on annual legislation, talked with fellow Republicans on the House floor and chatted with a gaggle of reporters.
But to mark the moment, fellow California Republicans gave personal tributes on the House floor. His close friend Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) called him “the legislative equivalent of an elite power athlete.”
It was not a final farewell though, as California Republicans said they expect McCarthy to help them keep a House GOP majority in 2024. McCarthy said that he will be assisting on the fundraising front, especially in “challenging races.”
He also didn’t rule out a future government gig or even a position in a Trump cabinet, despite his complicated relationship with the former president.
The well wishes on McCarthy’s last day were bipartisan — with former House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) speaking about his time serving alongside the former speaker despite their years of disagreement.
“When we could agree, [McCarthy] took the opportunity to act upon that agreement,” Hoyer said. “It was good for the House. It was good for the country.”
During McCarthy’s nearly hour-long exit interview with reporters, he reflected on the past year from his hideaway in the Capitol — a room he moved to after losing the speakership. McCarthy greeted reporters in a true history-buff fashion: with a story about how former President Harry Truman — then vice president — found out he was going to lead the nation in the same room.
McCarthy described the past tumultuous year, noting that the ups and downs of someone’s life are what defines them. He used Abraham Lincoln as an example. “Think about Lincoln,” McCarthy said.
“He loses a race for speaker — which I admire,” McCarthy adds with a chuckle.
It was only a few months earlier that McCarthy held a bipartisan viewing of the movie “Lincoln,” something McCarthy said he had done as an attempt to unite the House. He thought members would act more cordial with one another, especially with a plus one from their district at their side. Had he been speaker in 2024, he said he hoped to host a carnival and music night at the Capitol to do the same.
The California Republican now heads back to his home state, where his political options are dim in the blue state.
While he said his departure was “bittersweet,” the former speaker ended the last day of his 17 years in Congress on a high note.
“I loved the job,” McCarthy said. “I loved every minute, good or bad.”