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Kevin McCarthy’s Snub of Pelosi Says It All

The would-be House speaker is already demonstrating that he lacks the class of any of his predecessors.

Kevin McCarthy
Alex Edelman/Getty Images
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

You probably watched or heard or saw all or some of Nancy Pelosi’s farewell speech on Thursday. If you’re a political junkie and had the time, you may have taken a few moments out of your day to lay work to the side and tune in. It was a legitimately historic moment: The woman called by many, and not without justification, the most effective speaker in the country’s history, and a historymaker at that since she was the first woman speaker, deserved a few minutes of your time.

Well, not if you’re Kevin McCarthy. The probably incoming speaker skipped it. “I had meetings,” he said. “But normally the others would do it during votes. I wish she could have done that—could have been there.”

I think that means that Pelosi slated her speech at some kind of special time when no votes were scheduled, and he’s so impossibly busy that every minute when votes aren’t scheduled is taken up by meetings (unsaid part: with rich donors telling him what to do and not to do with his new, slim majority or with extremists plotting how to impeach Joe Biden). Sure, he is a busy guy. That might well serve as a good excuse if the thing he’d missed were the commemoration of National Porcupine Day.

But really, McCarthy knew what he was doing. This was just a huge and intentional “Fuck you” not only to Pelosi but to tradition and decorum and plain old manners.

Hold on, you say. Maybe there is no such tradition. Maybe the librul media is hyperventilating over a nonstory. Do incoming speakers of the other party always attend the farewell addresses of their predecessors? Did Jonathan Trumbull attend Frederick Muhlenberg’s farewell address (if he even gave one) in 1793?

I admit I don’t know. But in the space of about three minutes, I did learn the following. Paul Ryan, the most recent Republican speaker, gave what was billed as his farewell address not from the well of the House but at the Library of Congress. Pelosi did not attend, it’s true, and said she was busy. Okay, she probably should have gone. But as it wasn’t actually in the House chamber, it was arguably a little different—the choice of venue made it somewhat more of a political event than an official, ceremonial event. Only the House chamber is the House chamber, with all its history and importance.

John Boehner, the last GOP speaker before Ryan, did give a farewell address in the House chamber. I don’t know if it was “during votes.” If it was, bully for him. But here’s the video. Come on; click on it. You need to watch it for only 22 seconds to see that the chamber is near full, with dozens of Democrats in attendance (in contrast, the Republican side of the chamber was largely empty when Pelosi spoke). And then you need only watch it for another seven seconds to see, not only in attendance but giving her Republican counterpart a standing ovation: Nancy Pelosi.

McCarthy is just a churlish, childish bottom feeder who will lead the GOP to more extremism and thuggish theater. And they’re trying to tell us that Trumpism was rebuffed last Tuesday? Donald Trump may have lost a few key races, but Trumpism is alive and well.

And not attending the farewell address of an obviously significant figure in the history of that body … well, as Mika Brzezinski asked on Morning Joe Friday, “Who raised you? Who raised these people?”

We’ve had reason to wonder that for years. Republicans have treated Pelosi not just as a political opponent but as a near-Satanic figure, by virtue of the city she calls home and represents: She’s not Nancy Pelosi of Baltimore, or Nancy Pelosi of St. Louis, or Nancy Pelosi of Denver, none of which would have quite the requisite zing. No, she is Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco … the mere mention of the city signaling everything to the right-wing mind that is corrupt and licentious about liberal America (notably, of course, the fact that there are lots of men living there who have sex with other men). Years and years and years of this demonization led inevitably to the day when some disturbed person visited her house—posted over the years, by the way, on numerous right-wing websites anxious to show what a “rich hypocrite” she is—and nearly killed her husband with a hammer.

Even after that, even after someone set out to take Pelosi’s life, McCarthy couldn’t be bothered to pay her 20 minutes’ worth of respect. Because it was her fault for scheduling her speech at the wrong time. He and his buddies may be chortling over this. But he shouldn’t think the other America didn’t notice. We did.