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McCarthy's 'Happy Conservative' Smile a Uniting Force


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- As Congress gets back to work, the U.S. House of Representatives welcomes new Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The California lawmaker will be responsible for moving the GOP agenda through the legislative branch.

McCarthy's people person skills will be needed. He uses them whether it's greeting friends at Luigi's Restaurant in his hometown of Bakersfield, California, or helping his Republican colleagues as they campaign across the country.

Wherever he is, McCarthy oozes happiness. It's a skill that's helped him get where he is today. After just eight years, he made it to the position of House majority leader faster than any congressman in history.

When CBN News asked about his meteoric rise during an interview in his home district of Bakersfield, McCarthy quipped, "I get shocked just being able to get into the building."

A 'Happy' Conservative Is Born

McCarthy's ride has been an interesting one. He grew up in a family of Democrats but became disenchanted in the 1970s while listening to then President Jimmy Carter.

"I was in elementary school or junior high and he [Jimmy Carter] put a sweater on and told me the best days of America were behind me and I had to accept it and turn my heater down," he recalled.

But then along came Ronald Reagan's vision of a Republican Party that, as Reagan deftly said, comprised, "bold colors, no pale pastels."

McCarthy was sold, becoming a Reagan conservative.

"He's a happy conservative and why is he happy? Because he knows that the conservative values gives greater liberty to the individual," McCarthy explained to CBN News.

That's exactly how McCarthy describes himself.

"I believe in being a happy conservative, that you're happy because your policies will give people greater freedom, greater independence. But you have to explain why your policy makes life better," he said.

Case of 'Legal' Immigration

Liberal Hispanic groups want him to explain his policy stance on immigration. Constant protests outside his California office demand movement on comprehensive immigration reform.

"You've got to make it where there is legal immigration, and the system currently doesn't work well. But our borders are not secure," he told CBN News.

"The president has given a false belief that someone can come here illegally and just become a citizen. Well that doesn't make society strong. It never has," he said.

McCarthy's plan for a strong society includes a jobs and an energy agenda, which would include construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and less environmental regulation. He thinks government agencies can become a hindrance to economic prosperity.

"They're too bureaucratic," McCarthy said. "They try to legislate and they hold back. They have these shackles upon the growth of what we can actually create."

McCarthy knows a thing or two creating growth. At just 19 years old, he opened his own deli after winning $5,000 in the lottery.

"You learn a lot in a small business," he told CBN News. "You're the first to work, the last to leave, and the last to be paid."

He then sold the deli and used that money to put himself through college.

"I don't come from an Ivy League school or anywhere else," McCarthy said. "The only way that I can do better than someone else, maybe they're better at something else, but they'll never beat me at work. The work habit that this place [Bakersfield, California] taught me I will apply myself harder. I will work harder."

Value of 'TEAM' Work

As a high school tight end, McCarthy also learned another value -- teamwork. His coach told him the word team stands for "Together Everyone Achieves More."

"Sometimes I take those same thoughts and theories and apply them in Congress," McCarthy told CBN News on the field at Bakersfield High School.

"A lot of times people just want to be an individual. But if you really want to win at the end of the day, it's not about you just achieving something. Everybody can achieve more if they work together," he explained.

So how can McCarthy bring Tea Party conservatives and moderate Republicans together?

"Well, lots of times I find a lot of people just want to go in and say, 'This is the way you go.' I think the first thing you have to do is listen and to me that's a little bit of wisdom," McCarthy said.

However, McCarthy does ask one thing from his Republican colleagues.

"What I've always told the members in being a [House Majority] whip is 'You vote your conscience. You vote your district. Just don't surprise me.' I just want to know what's going to happen," he said.

He works to avoid surprises by building relationships, whether it's in the gym, early morning bike rides, or even sending handwritten thank you notes.

Faith and Family

But the relationship he values most of all is with his wife, Judy.

"This position has been held by people before," Judy McCarthy told CBN News. "It will be held by people after Kevin so you have to make the best of it. But that doesn't define who you are."

And what does that for Judy? She points straight to her faith and accepting Jesus Christ at the age of 13.

"It completely changed my life and it defines who I am. You can't say faith without Judy because we are one in the same. It's absolutely who I am," she said.

For the House Majority Leader, however, outwardly expressing his faith wasn't a part of his Catholic family's lifestyle. But he found a way.

"I had a friend down the street that had a junior high program at First Baptist Church. So I would get up in the morning, on Sunday with my family still sleeping, and I would run down and go to church with another family just because that's where I really learned to grow in Christ."

He'll need that faith to stay grounded and avoid the pitfalls inside the beltway. He's determined to not be corrupted by Washington, D.C.

"No. No. No. We're going to change Washington," McCarthy told CBN News.

He's determined to do that with a smile and firm determination even if it takes some time.

"Sometimes it's not fast enough," he said. "It's definitely not fast enough at times for me, but as long as that compass is pointed in the right direction and it's moving forward, I mean, you look at Ronald Reagan, that's the goal of what we would have. But you don't give up. You come back the next day for what you couldn't get the day before."

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