Kevin McCarthy, the man House Republicans are on course to tap as their next majority leader, steps to the microphones with other Republican leaders, opens his eyes wide and says something baffling.
• On justice being blind: “One of the most important I think that can happen today, Lynn Jenkins’ bill, an idea of fairness, the idea that when you look across the street from the Capitol, you see the Supreme Court, you see the statue sitting there, blinded in the process with the weights in – between.”
• On HealthCare.gov: “He only totes the 8 million. But the insurers are saying many of that is duplicate, that people inside the website that we all know did not – wasn’t successful. . . . How many have paid the premiums? How many will continue? How many are duplicates? How can we fall as we go forward?”
• On his home state of California: “We are suffering through one of the worst droughts in a century. It’s even worse based upon the regulations that we have. . . . Unfortunately, like many of our bills, we sent it to the Senate, the Senate refused to act on it, let no one act on what is their policy for a drought in California? This has gone beyond the point.”
• On a charter-school bill: “This is a great strength of a change making an equalizer inside for economy throughout.”
Watching McCarthy at these weekly stakeouts (he has been majority whip the past three years) can be a nail-biting event. It’s surprising, because he is a native English speaker and he speaks fluently in private or in small groups. But put him in front of a crowd and his words come out as if they have been translated by Google from a foreign language.
This is not a peripheral matter, because McCarthy will become much more of a spokesman for the party if he replaces Eric Cantor. This would also put him first in line to be the spokesman for congressional Republicans – speaker of the House – once John Boehner leaves the post.
It’s certainly not disqualifying (our 43rd president frequently waged battles with the English language), but McCarthy’s struggle might give colleagues pause because it occurs when he is working from notes or making a prepared statement. What will happen when he takes questions as majority leader, which he seldom does now?
McCarthy is good-looking and well-liked by colleagues (he screens movies for them), and no dummy could have advanced so far since his election in 2006. But he has had some high-profile failures as the party’s top vote counter (on a couple of occasions, leaders lost or had to cancel votes they expected to win), and one of his high-profile launches, a website inviting public feedback, was widely ridiculed and then abandoned. At the launch, McCarthy said he used “a Microsoft program that helped NASA map the moon.”
McCarthy has traveled far, apparently, to come up with some of his weekly pronouncements. Here are a few, transcribed by Federal News Service, which occasionally inserts words in parentheses that the stenographers think McCarthy might have been trying to say.
• On a Congressional Budget Office study of Obamacare: “Then yesterday, based upon that study, what does he do? Delays business, loses trust. And where’s the fairness? Business is picked over individuals. America – we’re a collective of individuals. We (come strength?) bound together.”
• On regulations: “We’re in the fourth year of a recovery – a recovery of this administration that put in more than 2,600 new regulations in its fourth year, more than 60 that were major rulings, compounded on growth.”
• On jobs: “I went out in my district and asked to tell the stories. I got it clear across the district, from all different aspects. . . . The Labor Department statistic for low-wage worker, December 2013, was the shortest amount of workweek they’ve ever had.”
• On an energy bill: “There is a theme that goes through it – the concept of representing the individual, the fairness of this country that it’s based upon, looking out for those individuals from the home heating costs that are being doubled and regulation that holds it back. If you look at Shuster’s bill, it allows propane to be able to move – (inaudible) – to be able to work.”
• On last year’s government shutdown: “As the speaker laid out, senior White House administration says it doesn’t matter how long we’re shut down.”
Republicans had better hope McCarthy masters speaking before becoming speaker.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at: