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From 'worthless' to 'good friend', Nevada Republicans reflect on McCarthy after ouster

Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum

What a year this week has been! This time last week, the government looked poised to shut down indefinitely. In (almost literally) the 11th hour, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) brought a clean temporary funding bill to the House floor, where it passed with more Democratic support than Republican. Three days later, he was gone, deposed by an antagonistic faction in his own party and Democrats who have long mistrusted him.

As the aftershocks of his historic ouster continue to reverberate around the Capitol, we ask one of our favorite questions: What does this mean for Nevada?

‘A good friend’ or ‘worthless?’

A prolific fundraiser and architect of House Republican ambitions, McCarthy’s hometown of Bakersfield is less than a four-hour drive from the Nevada border.

Last cycle, the then-minority leader made several swings through Nevada on the campaign trail. McCarthy appeared at an August veterans’ roundtable in Henderson with Mark Robertson, the Republican candidate in District 1, and Sam Peters, the Republican challenger in District 4. Congressional Leadership Fund, the Super PAC aligned with McCarthy, cut ads for Robertson and District 3 GOP candidate April Becker.

While House Democrats have maintained significant fundraising advantages over House Republicans in recent cycles, the McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund would typically help close the advertising gap for Nevada candidates. Last cycle, CLF spent $16 million on Robertson and Becker through the end of October. Of the more than $180 million McCarthy’s super PAC spent in 2022, those two Nevada districts were targeted more than any other district in the country.

“Tell me who's going to be able to match that, because nobody's gonna be able to match it,” Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) said about the former speaker’s fundraising in an interview Tuesday. “That's taking nothing away from Steve [Scalise] or Tom Emmer. But [he’s] been in Republican leadership since before I got here, and worked [his] way up, and paid [his] dues.”

But for all of his spending and attention, McCarthy was not able to flip any Nevada House seats since his ascent to minority leader in 2019, following former Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) retirement. While his support and resources made Amodei a fan, McCarthy has had his share of detractors, from the hardline forces that brought him down to others who felt like he did not try hard enough in the Silver State. 

And McCarthy had already begun to influence primaries in the 2024 cycle, endorsing District 3 candidate Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) — in fact, the most recent tweet from his personal account is a retweet of that endorsement.

McCarthy was also a reliable attendee at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual Las Vegas retreat, seeking to take advantage of the late casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s deep pockets and getting $3 million for House Republican candidates from the group last cycle. Speaking in Las Vegas at the retreat last November, he told the group he would remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from her spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee over her attacks on the pro-Israel lobby, and followed through.

He also served as a pinch hitter for former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s annual Basque Fry in 2017, after scheduled headliners (Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)) canceled in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. 

“Kevin McCarthy has been a good friend to Nevada, in the 11 years I've been here,” Amodei told me in December, a sentiment he echoed after the speaker was deposed. “He's always had an open door.”

Amy Tarkanian, a former state GOP chair whose husband ran unsuccessfully for the 3rd District in 2018 and challenged Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) in 2022, said Republican House candidates in Nevada should expect to face valid attacks of being unable to govern in the wake of McCarthy’s ouster.

McCarthy supported Tarkanian in 2018, but helped Amodei in 2022. She downplayed his importance.

“McCarthy's worthless,” she said. “McCarthy hosted a fundraiser in D.C. [for Danny in 2018], but he didn't lift a finger. He basically just — and that's what he was really good at with candidates — he just slapped his name on an event.”

Of the candidates for the speakership, she said she thought Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), a powerful fundraiser in his own right, would be able to pick up the mantle with Las Vegas’ donor class, and added that the Louisianian hosted a fundraiser and spoke at an event for her husband in 2018.

Jeremy Hughes, a Republican strategist who served as Pacific regional director for Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, agreed that it would come down to messaging, though he thinks other issues favor Republicans regardless of who’s in the speaker’s chair.

“Of course it’s meaningful, because former Speaker McCarthy is a known commodity,” he said over text. “But the next speaker knows this and will work overtime to ensure the funds are there.”

Around the Capitol

  • Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, swore new Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CA) into the group Tuesday, between votes on the motion to vacate.
  • Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to allow part-time Indian Health Service (IHS) physicians to access scholarships and loan repayment programs that the IHS offers, in order to improve recruitment and retention at the agency.
  • The Department of Justice awarded over $31 million to various Nevada law enforcement agencies.
  • Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) signed a bipartisan letter to the National Archives and Records Administration expressing concern over the slow pace of military service records requests.
  • Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), as part of her advocacy for Americans living overseas, introduced a bill to exempt Americans being wrongfully detained abroad from tax penalties for missing deadlines while detained.
  • Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) joined Culinary Union workers preparing for a possible strike.

Notable and Quotable:

“To be honest with you — I don't think there's anybody. There's not an appreciation for how hard that job has gotten.”

— Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), on if anyone can unite House Republicans as their next speaker

Legislative Tracker


Legislation sponsored:

S.Con.Res.21 — A concurrent resolution recognizing the significance of equal pay and the disparity in wages paid to Latina women in comparison to men.

S.3022 — A bill to amend the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to allow Indian Health Service scholarship and loan recipients to fulfill service obligations through half-time clinical practice, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.Res.394 — A resolution honoring the life of James L. Buckley, former senator for the state of New York.

S.3008 — A bill to provide back pay to federal contractors, and for other purposes.

S.Res.400 — A resolution honoring the life and legacy of Dianne Feinstein, the late senator for the state of California.

S.Res.404 — A resolution designating Oct. 4, 2023, as "Energy Efficiency Day" in celebration of the economic and environmental benefits that have been driven by private sector innovation and federal energy efficiency policies.


Legislation co-sponsored:

S.Res.394 — A resolution honoring the life of James L. Buckley, former senator for the state of New York.

S.Res.400 — A resolution honoring the life and legacy of Dianne Feinstein, the late senator for the state of California.

S.Con.Res.21 — A concurrent resolution recognizing the significance of equal pay and the disparity in wages paid to Latina women in comparison to men.


Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5872 — To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to postpone tax deadlines and reimburse paid late fees for United States nationals who are unlawfully or wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5871 — To enhance safety requirements for trains, and for other purposes.


Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5876 — To amend part A of title IV of the Social Security Act to provide funding to sustain and increase the supply and quality of child care, access to child care, and the child care workforce, and for other purposes.


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