California has lost two top figures in the US House of Representatives in the past two years, first with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to step down, followed by Kevin McCarthy’s announcement that he will resign from Congress altogether after being dismissed from his own party.
The two represent opposed politics. But in their home country, their exit from the top congressional leadership had repercussions, upsetting a political infrastructure they had spent decades building.
After the recent death of Dianne Feinstein, one of the most senior members of the Senate, and the upcoming departure of many senior representatives of California, the most populous state in the US, which has a lot of influence in the history of national policy, found itself in a political quandary.
“It’s unusual to have back-to-back speakers from the same state,” said Marc Sandlaow, associate director of the University of California Washington Center. “And then losing two speakers in a row—that’s a huge turnover.”
The upcoming retirements of veteran representatives Anna Eshoo, Tony Cárdenas, and Grace Napolitano have added to the state’s losses. In addition, three California representatives—Katie Porter, Barbara Lee, and Adam Schiff—are vying for the Senate seat left vacant by the late Dianne Feinstein, contributing to a power vacuum in the House. In general, Californians who leave Congress have decades of seniority in the House, Sandalow said. (However, with former California senator Kamala Harris in the vice-presidential office, the state is still represented at the highest level of the US government.)
Both parties may find their fundraising efforts affected. But, especially for Republicans, McCarthy’s departure will leave a huge void.
“Kevin McCarthy is the last pulse in the body that is the Republican Party in California,” said Mike Madrid, a longtime California Republican political consultant. In a state that generally leans Democratic but has many conservative and moderate pockets, McCarthy’s activism over the years has helped boost his party’s candidates.
“Kevin at least has the power of the speaker and the influence of national donors,” Madrid said. “And now that’s gone.” Perhaps also lost, he added, is the political goodwill and influence McCarthy spent decades building in his home state.(Pelosi) still has a lot of energy, but now she’s an important voice in the room, as opposed to a voice in the room
McCarthy, 58, pledged “to support the next generation of leaders,” promising to raise a new generation of Republicans, in an opinion essay for the Wall Street Journal. But his surprise ouster and an uneasy alliance with far-right members of his party that ultimately ousted him have diminished his influence, Madrid said. “Kevin’s legacy has taken a huge hit. His reputation during the Trump years has been severely tarnished.
That was not the case for Pelosi, 83, who left the House leadership on good terms. He announced in September that he would seek re-election in 2024 and has spent the past year continuing to fundraise for fellow Democrats while boosting his own political war chest.
“He has a tremendous amount of clout, but he’s now an important voice in the room, as opposed to the voice in the room,” said Dan Schnur, a professor at the UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies and a veteran consultant. to Republicans. “However, we see a generational shift in his retreat.”
It remains unclear who will step up. Along with Feinstein, Pelosi is part of a generation of Bay Area leaders who have helped define Democratic politics and policy for decades. They also became kings, pulling in several state leaders, including the governor of California, Gavin Newsom.
“And they’re so much a part of the political establishment,” Sandalow said. “Their departure opens the door for more progressive candidates to emerge.”
However, at least until Pelosi retires, she is likely to remain a powerful influence. “Pelosi is probably the leading fundraiser in the history of the US Congress,” said Sandalow, a longtime Washington reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle who wrote a biography of the former speaker.
He and McCarthy, he added, “knew how to tap into the deep pockets of California and then distribute the money to their candidates across the country to buy influence.”