Transcript: Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on "Face the Nation," March 24, 2024


The following is a transcript of an interview with former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that aired on March 24, 2024.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the former Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, who joins us this morning from Bakersfield, California. Good to have you back on the program, sir.

FMR. SPEAKER KEVIN MCCARTHY: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So since you left Congress, we’ve had four high profile Republican departures, including Mike Gallagher, a- a young rising star, someone you put in key positions, you know, announced retirements, including from one of your lieutenants, Patrick McHenry. Is the chaos within your caucus driving these departures?

MCCARTHY: I think it’s causing some of it, yes. I mean, the difficulty here is when you allow eight Republicans to join with all the Democrats to determine who can run the House when 96% decide one way, it creates some chaos. They’ve got to move through this, put the country first and be able to move on. I think they’re able to do that. Speaker Johnson is doing the very best job he can. It’s a difficult situation but look, the one advice I would give to the Conference and to the Speaker is do not be fearful of a motion to vacate. I do not think they could do it again, that was surely based on Matt Gaetz trying to stop an ethics complaint. I don’t think the Democrats will go along with it too. Focus on the country, focus on the job you’re supposed to do, and actually do it fearlessly. Just move forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Patrick McHenry, one of your lieutenants, said you can either die a Speaker and worry about them taking you out or live every day as your last. Are you suggesting Speaker Johnson is afraid to take a vote on something? 

MCCARTHY: No, no, not at all–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Like Ukraine?

MCCARTHY: No, no, I don’t think- I don’t think Speaker Johnson’s afraid at all and I don’t believe the motion will come up. What the- the motion Marjorie put in was not privileged. So it’s not- it’s not being called up for a vote. I don’t think the Democrats will go along with this either. We’re close to the election. We watched what transpired the last time you went three weeks without Congress being able to act. You can’t do anything if you don’t have a Speaker. I think we’ve moved past that. We’ve got a lot of challenges. We got FISA coming up before us, we’ve got Ukraine funding, we’ve got a border wide open. Those are the issues the country is actually looking on the economy and others. If we focus on the country, and what the country desire, I think the personalities can solve their own problems.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, when you were in Washington, you used to deal with Marjorie Taylor Greene who filed this motion to vacate to oust the Speaker. She’s blaming Johnson for everything from chaos at the border. She says she’s starting this process to end the chaos that Americans are living in every single day. Do you endorse her tactic? What’s the game here?

MCCARTHY: Look, the one thing I’ve always found, when you sit down with a member and talk to them, find out what their concerns are, especially when it’s based upon policy, you can solve that problem. And I watched that with Marjorie from the vote to Speaker or to the vote for the Fiscal Responsibility Act. There’s times she was a difference of opinion to you sit down and find common ground. Matt’s case was much different. It’s about a personal thing that he had done and that’s what he was trying to get something illegally stopped. This is not the case here. So I would not be afraid of a motion to vacate. This is about policy. And you remember, our government is to- is designed to find common ground. And we’ve got a small majority. But remember, Margaret, in those nine months, what was the small majority able to do? We actually passed the strongest border security bill, it’s now struck in the Senate, an energy independence bill. We stopped DC from decriminalizing–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –It’s dead on arrival Senate.

MCCARTHY: We made the largest–

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s stuck there.

MCCARTHY: But- but this is what did come into law, the largest cut in American history more than 2 trillion–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Yeah.

MCCARTHY: Welfare reform took 20 billion back from the IRS going after Americans. NEPA reform hadn’t done in 40 years, Parents’ Bill of Rights. We’ve proven we can govern in many ways which would actually show to the American public if we had a new president, got a majority in the Senate, America would be much stronger. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you’ve twice now mentioned Matt Gaetz. So I want to just ask you if you have evidence to back up your allegation?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think the Ethics Committee- it was purely Matt coming to me trying- trying me to do something illegal to stop the Ethics Committee from moving forward in investigation that was started long before I became a Speaker–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Something illegal?

MCCARTHY: I would not do that. don’t know what the fact- I don’t know what the facts are there. It’s a personal issue of what he’d done as a member of Congress. I simply would say the Ethics Committee has the right to look at whatever they’re going forward and I’m not going to get in the middle of it one way or another.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Putting that to the side, I want to talk about what you are actually seeing happen with legislation because a lot of Americans look at what’s happening and say, this is chaos. We want actual, real problems dealt with. On the national security front, that used to be a priority for Republicans. But as we were just talking about with Chair McCaul, Johnson hasn’t given any timeline, really, for a vote on this Ukraine package, nor for Israel, nor for Taiwan. Who is he afraid of? Is it Mr. Trump?

MCCARTHY: No, I don’t think he’s afraid of anyone. Remember, you have certain things before you, government funding–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why not set a date?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think- I think- I think he is setting a date, you also have to have- educate the members, be able to move forward with that. I’ve always believed, in that situation, when I was Speaker, securing the border, and dealing with foreign policy, you could do at the same time and together. What I was going to move forward is, take our H.R. 2 and also deal with the security issue. I think Israel is actually different, that should have been moved forward with no pay for, long before, especially right after October 7. Because we have a world that looks like the 1930s, you’ve got this new axis of evil with China, Russia, Iran, bounding together. You don’t want to send the wrong message–

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that- that was a Johnson choice that you’re criticizing there.

MCCARTHY: Well, what I’m saying is, you need to work together to move forward. You’ve got to secure the American border. What I would use is the power of the majority, is to sit down just as we did with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, go directly to the president. If you sit around and try to do four leaders, you’re never going to get to an answer. Sit down and negotiate with the President directly about border security and Ukraine and Taiwan. I believe you would get to an answer. And you’ve got the power, and use that power of the majority to move. I believe when you come back, you just heard the Chairman there–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well it- it’s barely a majority at- at this- at this point, I mean, by the end of April, you’re gonna be down to 217 Republicans to 213 Democrats. I mean, the dynamics and change here, should you have- should you have stayed in Congress?

MCCARTHY: Well, the one thing I will tell you, you still have the majority. Remember, when we had a small majority of just five, we did pass the most conservative border security bill. We did cut more than $2 trillion. We did pass a Parents Bill of Rights. We did be able to reform welfare. So we did things other Congress couldn’t do with 30 seat majority. You have the majority, you can still govern and use that power to do exactly that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It- it sounds like you’re- you’re providing some coaching advice there. Sir, I want to ask you- ask you, though. Do you speak to Speaker Johnson? And I know you do speak to President- former President Trump, do you have plans to return to government potentially in a Trump administration?

MCCARTHY: Look, I’ve always said I- I will serve whichever way I- if I’m the best person for the job. But I think people worried about whether they get a job in the next administration is the wrong place to be. You first have to have the election. I think you should be going out to the American public and showing them, yes, with President Trump get elected, we would have a secure border, we’d have a stronger economy. We wouldn’t be evacuating five embassies, we wouldn’t have war around the world–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, those are counterfactuals.

MCCARTHY: We would be much stronger and the future would be much brighter.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Those- those are counterfactuals.

MCCARTHY: I don’t think so. I served- I served with both presidents. That’s exactly the situation today. We have evacuated five embassies under President Biden. We’ve had high inflation under President Biden. We have a wide open border. We have people who are on the terrorist watch list- more people in one month of February getting across our border than the entire time when–

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re gonna–

MCCARTHY: –President Trump was in office. So–

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re gonna–

MCCARTHY: That’s the actual truths of what’s happening today.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well we’re going to talk to the head of Border Patrol later in the program and our immigration correspondent about some of the specifics of those issues. Kevin McCarthy, thank you for coming back. “Face the Nation” will be back in a minute. Stay with us.



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