Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina is the House leader, at least for now. | spcilvly

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — When Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his post as House speaker, in part by colleagues who helped put him on the stage nine months ago, one of his top lieutenants took over the presidency, at least temporarily.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry took up the gavel after Tuesday’s vote to unseat McCarthy, a historic first for a House speaker. Under House rules, McHenry was chosen from a list that McCarthy was required to maintain and will essentially serve as acting president — known as president pro tempore — until the House determines who will be the next leader.

For McHenry, who stands out for his signature bow ties, the interim job marks his most public position to date during his 10 terms in the House.

But his stature and prominence had already increased within the House. McHenry was one of McCarthy’s closest allies, helping him win the speaker’s election in January and negotiate the debt limit deal McCarthy made with President Joe Biden earlier this year.

It helped McCarthy hold together his fragile majority until it crumbled over a decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown. On Tuesday he gave a speech in support of McCarthy.

Dee Stewart, McHenry’s longtime political adviser and his first chief of staff on Capitol Hill, said he’s not surprised that, for now, his close friend presides over one of the most important legislative bodies in the world.

“He has demonstrated tremendous insight as a member of Congress and is widely respected by almost everyone who deals with him,” said Stewart, who first met McHenry in 1996 at a North Carolina Federation of College Republicans convention.

One of McHenry’s first acts in the temporary position was to remove Speaker Emeritus Nancy Pelosi from her honorary post at the Capitol while she was in California to pay tribute to the late Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Pelosi called the eviction “a marked departure from tradition.” But he added: “I don’t care about the office space, but it seems to be important to them. Now that the new Republican leadership has resolved this important issue, let’s hope they get to work on what’s truly important to the American people.”

McHenry, who will turn 48 later this month, grew up in the Charlotte area. He attended North Carolina State University before graduating from Belmont Abbey College, a small Catholic school west of Charlotte.

While still in college, he ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat in 1998, but won four years later, at age 27. McHenry had worked for a Washington-based media consulting firm, for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, and as Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

McHenry served only one term in the General Assembly, where he witnessed a historic stalemate over who should be speaker of the chamber. The fight ended with a Democrat and a Republican sharing the seat, each striking in sessions on alternating days.

But McHenry was looking to the future, and in 2004 he scored a victory in the Republican primary for the labor-centered, manufacturing-focused 10th Congressional District seat vacated by outgoing Republican Rep. Cass Ballenger.

He advanced to a runoff, where he defeated a popular local sheriff by just 85 votes out of 30,000 cast to win the party’s nomination. Advisers credited McHenry’s grassroots campaign (Stewart said they knocked on 60,000 doors) for defeating rivals who were nearly twice his age and spent far more than him.

After defeating the Democratic nominee in 2004, McHenry entered Congress as a hardline conservative willing to speak out against leadership. He broke with Republican leaders by keeping a campaign promise to vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

But over time, McHenry rose up the GOP leadership ladder, becoming the Republicans’ top deputy in 2015 and a key part of McCarthy’s team. This year he was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

McHenry “really earned his stripes by (being) willing to address difficult issues vocally during his first two terms,” Stewart said, adding that he was given more responsibilities while “demonstrating his loyalty to the conservative cause.”

Former President John Boehner told Politico in 2017 after leaving office, “McHenry will be the speaker one day.”

Stewart was cautious about whether McHenry could become the permanent speaker, saying he was “taking a wait-and-see approach.”

McHenry won re-election by comfortable margins, a reflection of Republican dominance in rural western North Carolina. Married to a U.S. government economist and father of three, McHenry lives in Lake Norman, within the 10th District.

Known for his deadpan jokes, McHenry can also have a fiery side.

While on the stand Tuesday, he carefully read a document that said it would be “prudent” to recess the House so party committees and conferences could meet “to discuss the way forward.”

McHenry then hit the gavel very hard and the footage went viral on social media.


Associated Press writer Stephen Groves in Washington contributed to this report.

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