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Boehner championed the ban on earmarks, which took away a powerful inducement for a Whip. Boehner has allowed the use of other perks — such as plum slots on Congressional delegations — but Republicans said they are fewer and further between than under previous regimes.
Boehner has also resisted pressure from McCarthy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Republican old bulls to resurrect the use of penalties to enforce discipline, such as stripping committee slots.
“There’s no earmarks, the Speaker doesn’t punish people. It’s a different philosophy. So it’s harder where you have to grab something ahead of time and work it through the process,” McCarthy said.
Boehner seems to understand what it means for McCarthy.
“Some of the reforms our new Republican majority has made in the House — opening up the debate, welcoming amendments, and banning earmarks — have made the Whip’s job tougher. There’s no doubt about that. There’s also no doubt that Kevin McCarthy has done a terrific job, and the Speaker appreciates all of his work,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
Those reforms have forced McCarthy to rely much more heavily on relationships.
“He’s like an older brother to the Conference,” one GOP Member said.
McCarthy has held dozens of “listening sessions,” working with committee chairmen to explain legislation to lawmakers and address their concerns.
He holds a weekly Whip dinner in his office open to any member of the Conference, and aides say he constantly works the phones or the floor.
He even has a rotating selection of pictures of Members in his office, which is designed to build camaraderie.
“The whole concept is for Members to hang out here … we want this to be the incubator of the idea gathering,” McCarthy said.
But even his best efforts have been stymied, Republicans said.
McCarthy has been hurt by the “influx of tea party freshmen and conservatives who believe in voting in a certain way. And that is something previous Whips haven’t had to deal with since the “Contract With America.” Most Congresses have been very narrowly split,” a former GOP leadership aide said.
Another factor is age and experience. Unlike Hoyer, DeLay and other Whips, McCarthy is relatively young, 47, and was elected to the House in 2006.
“There are things he just doesn’t know as a newer Member of Congress. … You can’t hand someone the Whip job with very little experience, a very large majority and no weapons in his arsenal and expect him to do a fantastic job,” one Republican said.
“If he had all the tools available to him that previous Whips have had to sway colleagues, then we’d have a good measuring stick,” one veteran GOP operative said.
By traditional measures — say, McCarthy’s ability to pass difficult legislation on strong party-line votes or his ability to tamp down dissent — his record is mixed.
McCarthy has short-circuited Democrats’ use of motions to recommit to trip up Republicans. Starting in 2007, Republicans were able to turn such votes — traditionally party-line procedural votes on the minority’s alternative to a bill — into a political bludgeon, getting Blue Dogs and other Democratic moderates to vote with the GOP.