If the man who slammed down the gavel on Kevin McCarthy’s time as speaker seems unfamiliar, that’s not surprising. Despite two decades in the House, Rep. Patrick McHenry has a record remarkably unblemished by anything resembling accomplishment. His entire career seems to consist of keeping a safely Republican seat occupied and generally being a rude little snot.
Though he’s been in Congress since he was 29, the closest McHenry has previously come to holding any position of power was a stint as chief deputy whip for the Republican Party in 2015. Until he appeared at McCarthy’s elbow as a reliable sidekick during both McCarthy’s 15-round effort to capture the office and his got-it-in-one effort to be booted out, it’s doubtful that many had noted McHenry’s presence. But then, the new House speaker pro tempore is easy to overlook, both literally and metaphorically.
However, McHenry seems to have established that he loves payday lenders, hates gay people, and is consistently rude to everyone. It’ll be a wonder if Republicans don’t love him.
If you need a McHenry sampler, here he is in his defense of McCarthy, taking time out to sneer at Democrats for failing to rise to the occasion by bailing out the guy who spent his last days as speaker attacking them even after Democrats dragged McCarthy back from the brink of disaster.
In his long tenure in the House, McHenry is mostly known for an incident in 2008 where he paid a visit to the “green zone” in Baghdad, then posted a video that showed him pointing out U.S. facilities. That video included filming the path of an incoming rocket that missed its target. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, after McHenry’s video was posted, a second rocket attack was more successful, killing two American soldiers. The Pentagon asked McHenry to take the video down and not air it again.
That Winston-Salem Journal article also notes that even then, McHenry was “perhaps known best for his bulldog efforts to tweak the Democratic leadership in the House.” By which they mean he was rude before being rude became the primary definition of Republican. That included a 2011 incident in which McHenry accused Sen. Elizabeth Warren of lying about a 15-minute move in the schedule of a meeting that had been approved by his own staff.
In the Warren incident, McHenry was so sneeringly awful that others present at the meeting apologized to Warren for his behavior. McHenry did not apologize. It was incidents such as this that caused Salon to introduce him as “the rudest, most shameless College Republican in Congress.” That article points out that one of McHenry’s first moves on arriving in the House was to vote in favor of an end to ethics rules, declares that he was “born to be cheerfully corrupt,” and that he had his first job at a “truly insidious conservative astroturfing/push-polling/communications firm.” Not much has changed since then.
McHenry has been a longtime member of the Finance Committee, where he has championed a bill “specifically written to rip off a large portion of his constituents” and was the chief author of a bill designed “by the payday lending industry’s favorite congressman” to bring back banned practices described as “discredited and predatory.” Making people more vulnerable to predatory lenders is McHenry’s key interest. That spot on the Finance Committee, and his unflagging support for weakening the protection of consumers, have kept McHenry’s campaign coffers filled with contributions from banks and financial institutions.
On the human rights front, McHenry has been vocal in his opposition to same-sex marriage. He voted against protecting gay people from hate crimes, voted against legislation to stop job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and voted to make “traditional marriage” part of the Constitution. He also reportedly banned gay people from entering his office, though how he thought this was possible is hard to fathom.
Since bringing down the gavel—which probably only looked comically oversized because the diminutive McHenry was holding it—the new speaker pro tempore has again demonstrated his signature style by ordering Rep. Nancy Pelosi to give up her office within 24 hours, knowing full well that Pelosi is on the West Coast to attend the funeral of her friend, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. McHenry followed this up early Wednesday morning by kicking Rep. Steny Hoyer out of his office. Because he can.
It’s worth noting that McHenry is busy blaming Democrats for his party’s divisions. He has made no move to sanction Rep. Matt Gaetz or any of the Republicans who were actually responsible for McCarthy’s ouster. And while it’s likely that “it’s all the Democrats’ fault” will be the rallying cry of Republicans through the chaos to come, a good part of that is certainly because McHenry is just as scared of Gaetz and company as his pal McCarthy.
Overall, he’s rude, angry, petty, in the pocket of predatory lenders, and deeply concerned about coming in contact with a gay person. Sounds like Republicans already have their perfect candidate.