Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had lots of stories to tell Tuesday night.
He talked about his mom buying gas at Costco. He had complaints about Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). He went after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), again and again, for ousting him. He admitted to privately seeking out then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for advice, while publicly criticizing her. He compared Vladimir Putin to Hitler.
Mere hours after becoming the first House speaker ever removed from the position, McCarthy held a stem-winding, nearly hour-long news conference — at times indignant and combative with the gathered press, at times appearing relieved.
“I made history, didn’t I?” he asked rhetorically.
It was the capstone to an unprecedented day that started with McCarthy’s name hanging over the entryway to the speaker’s suite and ended with him walking out of his former office with a box tucked under his arm.
Shortly after McCarthy was ousted — in a charge led by Gaetz — the former speaker addressed his conference behind closed doors, telling them he wouldn’t seek the speakership again, in what was described by several Republicans as a calm and measured tone that commanded respect.
His opening remarks to the press were similarly deliberate. When he stuck to the script in front of him, it was void of the usual jabs and outbursts of enthusiasm that often punctuate his frequent interactions with the Capitol Hill press corps.
But then he cracked his first smile, with a jab midway through telling his life story about winning the lottery and how those $5,000 went much further back then “before Biden economics.”
“But you want to know the end of the story?” McCarthy asked, after recounting being denied an internship at his local congressman’s office in Washington. “I got elected to the seat I couldn’t get an internship for. I ended up being the 55th speaker of the House. One of the greatest honors.”
Taking questions for almost 40 minutes, McCarthy’s comments ranged far and wide — from a history of Hitler’s rise in Germany to mentioning a famous Italian restaurant in Washington four times when discussing House Republicans’ newly launched impeachment inquiry — prompting his staff to yell “last question” twice to no avail. For those who cover McCarthy often, it was not a rare sight to see him take every question in the room. But it happens only when he feels relaxed and is enjoying the back-and-forth.
Without the constraints of the speakership, McCarthy declared something he would not when serving as speaker: that the House as an institution is broken. He blamed Democrats for it — though Democrats pointed to his own politicized behavior as the reason they did not save him Tuesday — detailing for the first time that he had asked then-Speaker Pelosi for advice on whether he should change the House rules to allow one person to trigger a motion to vacate him from the speakership. He claimed Pelosi told him she’d back him up if his conference tried to oust him. Pelosi was not at the Capitol on Tuesday, and her office did not confirm whether McCarthy’s story was accurate.
He took another chance to poke at Democrats: “They played so many politics.”
But then he went back to criticizing the eight Republicans responsible for removing him, pinning them with the blame that led to his “fear” that “the institution fell today.”
Asked what he should’ve done differently in handling those eight, McCarthy said flatly, “A lot of them I helped get elected, so I probably should’ve picked somebody else.” He laughed.
Known for his prowess as a massive fundraiser and pressed on whether he would break his promise to not intervene in his antagonists’ primaries, McCarthy warned, “I told the conference, I’m a free agent now, and I think I’m pretty good at electing people.”
He intimated some regret in allowing the rule that just one person could bring a motion to remove him, a concession he made in his 15-round fight to take the speakership that eventually ended his reign. He warned that the “one thing he does know” is that the “country is too great for small visions of those eight” who ultimately ousted him.
“They don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry and they’re chaotic. That’s not the party,” he said. “They are not conservatives, and they do not have the right to have the title.”
His advice for the next speaker? “Change the rules,” he said with a laugh.
After claiming Gaetz’s beef with him was “personal,” McCarthy got personal about Gaetz, repeatedly calling him out as a distraction who spent too much time fundraising for his own enrichment rather than behaving like a true lawmaker.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz will give the NRCC a lot of money,” McCarthy taunted.
He claimed to be “shocked” by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) voting to oust him because he considered him a friend. But he also rebuked him for what he said was Burchett’s misconstruing a call McCarthy made to him after seeing Burchett tell the press he was praying to make the right decision on whether to vote against McCarthy.
But otherwise, there was little insight into any regret for how he got to Tuesday night — holding court with reporters as just another rank-and-file member of Congress for the first time in more than a decade. When a reporter started a question saying, “do you regret —” she was cut off by McCarthy. “I don’t think you’ve ever had a positive question yet,” he mocked. “But I have high hopes. This is going to be exciting!”
He blamed hard-right conservatives for his ouster, but talked little about how he empowered them. When pressed on broken promises he made throughout the year, McCarthy grew defensive.
“Which word did I not keep? Name one thing I did not keep,” McCarthy said.
While McCarthy was reflective of his own career, he said little about what his political future holds. In the near term, McCarthy played coy about a role many of his Republican colleagues hope he plays: tapping a successor.
“I might, I might. I don’t know who’s running,” he said. “I’ll talk to people.”
Asked whether he would resign from his seat like recent Republican speakers, McCarthy said he hadn’t thought about it yet.
He wrapped up the night with one final jab at the press.
“Look, I enjoy you. I don’t know if you’ll cover me as much, but I’m sure I won’t miss you,” he said, tapping his folder on the lectern and walking away.
Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.