Kevin McCarthy survived his first political battle. This is how his hometown reacted
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is facing a potential uprising from members of his own party in the far-right Freedom Caucus following the approval of a deal he orchestrated to raise the federal spending limit and avoid a catastrophic debt default.
Back home in California, in his Bakersfield district, some constituents are praising the Republican leader for his handling of the tense negotiations that largely held the line for Democrats while failing to advance key conservative priorities.
In Wool Growers, a historic Basque restaurant and Bakersfield institution, owner Jenny Maitia-Poncetta — and many locals — watched the debt ceiling showdown unfold from a tiny TV hanging above the bar.
McCarthy's willingness to reach across the aisle and usher in a deal is a strength of the embattled speaker, she said.
"I'm a Republican, and I'm proud of being a Republican, but I know we need to work together to make it work," she said of the bill that ultimately saw more Democratic votes than Republican.
And besides, she says, the deal saw non-defense spending shrink for the first time in years. Deeper cuts would be ideal, but that's still a win for conservatives.
"Anything is better than nothing," the restaurateur adds.
Diner Randy McDaniel agrees between sips of hearty vegetable soup.
"I'm very conservative, but I think people who are too far right are going to kill us if they don't get in the middle a little bit," he said.
In particular, McDaniel says he's happy to see the expansion of work requirements tied to food stamp eligibility.
"I'm good with helping people who really need it, but I think there's too many people out there that are not doing their part to try and improve," he said.
Ivy Cargile is a political science professor at California State University, Bakersfield. She's been watching the discussions closely and says McCarthy fared better than expected, given his contentious path to the speakership.
"The debt ceiling bill passed and this is a win for him," she said. "This is a solid win for him."
She says a deal to raise the debt limit and spare the country an unprecedented financial crisis was hardly a foregone conclusion.
"I was concerned," she said. "In Kern County, poverty levels are high. People do live paycheck-to-paycheck. And some of those paychecks come from the federal government."
Cargile says she's eagerly waiting to see how McCarthy will handle the federal government's funding fight — through the formal budget-making process — at the end of the year.
In an unprecedented concession to claiming the speaker's gavel, any single House Republican can trigger a motion to fire McCarthy. It remains unclear whether any in his conference will trigger what some lawmakers have called the "nuclear" option.
But that hasn't stopped hardline conservatives from expressing their displeasure with McCarthy and party leadership. Earlier this week, some in the Freedom Caucus upended routine House procedures ahead of a vote to forbid future bans on gas stoves, a Republican priority.
The tumult spread to other factions of the Republican Party on Wednesday, McCarthy told reporters Wednesday evening, adding that he wasn't concerned about threats to his gavel.
If House Republicans were to oust the speaker — a big "if" at this point — it's unclear who could take up the gavel. Any replacement would have a tough task finding consensus within the divided party, Cargile says.
A search for a new party leader could also distract from what is already shaping up to be a contentious 2024 presidential election, she adds.
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