McCarthy likes to illustrate the changes in the House by talking about a conversation with Kevin Spacey, the actor, who came to visit when he set out to research his role in the HBO [sic, it's on Netflix] series “House of Cards,” in which he depicts a wily congressional leader who consolidates power by bullying, scheming and coercing the caucus to his will.
The House majority whip could offer the “House of Cards” actor advice on many things: how to charm constituents, recruit candidates, run a shrewd campaign. But for hardball tactics like the ones Spacey’s character reveled in, the actor had arrived several years too late.
“We went through things, and Spacey said, you know, ‘Tell me how you twist arms,’” McCarthy said during one of several recent interviews in his stately Capitol office.
“It is not like that now,” the congressman told him.
Indeed, among the first pledges the new majority made good on was to jettison the billions of dollars of “earmarks” that previous congressional leaders — and Spacey’s fictional character — used to sway members’ positions. The move was one of several the GOP adopted that weakened the leadership’s influence.
The heavy-handed ways of previous GOP leaders, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, had worn on the rank and file, McCarthy said. In the new media landscape, efforts to push the caucus into a position can be upended in a matter of minutes on Twitter. It is just not practical, he says, nor desirable, to exert the kind of pressure Republican leaders once used.
But despite all his talk of letting the caucus work its will, McCarthy occasionally lets some frustration show. In a recent talk in Newport Beach, according to an account in the Daily Pilot, he admitted that the job might be a lot less challenging if he could do it in the style of Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, who, in the show, cleared his path by killing a fellow congressman.
“If I could murder one member,” McCarthy joked, “I’d never have to worry about another vote.”