A Trump Ally in Congress Warns His State, California, to Make Nice
WASHINGTON — Representative Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader, keeps a souvenir from a dinner the night before this year’s inauguration behind his desk: an embossed menu autographed by Donald J. Trump. The president-elect was at his table. Mr. McCarthy is not only the second-most powerful Republican in the House — he is also one of the earliest and most earnest supporters of the new president.
But this weekend, Mr. McCarthy — one of Mr. Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill — returns home to his district in Bakersfield, Calif., a state that embodies the organized Democratic resistance to Mr. Trump’s presidency.
By now, Mr. McCarthy said, he is getting used to the protesters who have turned up outside his home and district office since Election Day, the newspaper editorials demanding that he protect his state from Mr. Trump’s policies and the state legislative hearings with testimony about the number of his constituents in danger of losing health coverage.
“I get demonstrations all the time,” Mr. McCarthy said Thursday, as he prepared to fly home for a week of events in his district. “I assume there will be some form of them again.”
One month into the Trump presidency, Mr. McCarthy is a man with a foot in two warring camps. He represents a 10,000-square-mile red rural stronghold in the farmland of central California, a state that Mr. Trump lost by four million votes. His seniority in the House leadership, and his ties to Mr. Trump, mean that he is indisputably the most powerful Californian in the nation’s capital.
And in an interview here, Mr. McCarthy left no doubt that his loyalties in this fight were east of the Mississippi River. He assailed California’s Democratic leaders for provoking the president, and warned that it could prove damaging to the state, particularly as the Trump administration created an infrastructure program to pay for public works projects across the nation.
“Look, I will represent my district, and I will represent my state,” Mr. McCarthy said in his first-floor suite of offices, between votes. “But what they are doing, they are playing with fire. Donald Trump is not going out in any way or form to attack California. They are the ones who are attacking California right now. They are the ones who are putting Californians at risk in every shape and form. And they are doing it to make a political point, which is wrong.”
It has been only 10 years since Mr. McCarthy, 52, arrived here as a freshman member of Congress, the latest stop in a career that began in the California Assembly, where he rose to become the minority leader. His family has lived in Bakersfield for generations, and he attended Bakersfield College and business school at California State University and owned a delicatessen in his hometown before he turned to politics full time.
Mr. McCarthy got his start in politics in college, where he was the head of the California Young Republicans. Soon after graduating, he sold his delicatessen and began working as the district director for Representative Bill Thomas, before leaving to run for the Assembly. He represents Mr. Thomas’s former district today.
Mr. McCarthy, who is married and has two children, still sleeps weeknights on a couch in his office, awakening every morning for a 6 o’clock workout, and flying home most weekends.
His quick ascension to power is partly a result of circumstance. The job opened after the previous majority leader, Eric Cantor, was upset in a primary by a Tea Party candidate in 2014. And Mr. McCarthy was an early supporter of Mr. Trump when many other Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, held back.
But another part of his success is what seems, in this contentious time, the almost throwback style of glad-hand politicking that Mr. McCarthy embraces as he moves across the Capitol. A portrait of Ronald Reagan, a wide grin on his face, fills most of the west wall of his office.
“Everybody today wants to be a Reagan Republican, but how many walk around with that smile?” Mr. McCarthy said.