Transcript: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on “Face the Nation”
▶ Watch Video: McCarthy on the debt ceiling, spending, GOP committee assignments and more
The following is a transcript of an interview with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that aired Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to Face the Nation. We have a lot to get to this morning, including the latest on the evolving situation in Memphis. But we begin with the new Speaker of the House, California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who is second in the presidential line of succession. Mr. Speaker, good morning to you.
HOUSE SPEAKER KEVIN MCCARTHY: Good morning. Thanks for having me back in studio.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It must be sobering to hear that reminder.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well, it took me a little while to get there, but it feels good.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you are here now at this key moment in time. And I want to get to some of the top agenda items. You have accepted an invitation to meet with President Biden. When will that happen, and what offer will you put on the table?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well, we’re going to meet this Wednesday. I know the President said he didn’t want to have any discussions, but I think it’s very important that our whole government is designed to find compromise. I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling, but take control of this runaway spending. I mean, if you look at the last four years, the Democrats have increased spending by 30%, $400 billion. We’re at a 120% of GDP. We haven’t been in this place to debt since World War Two. So we can’t continue down this path. And I don’t think there’s anyone in America who doesn’t agree that there’s some wasteful Washington spending that we can eliminate. So, I want to sit down together, work out an agreement that we can move forward, to put us on a path to balance- at the same time, not put any- any of our debt in jeopardy at the same time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But- avoid a default in other words?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yeah.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you have any indication that the President is willing to discuss both lifting the debt ceiling and the issue of future spending?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well, if he’s changed his mind from his whole time in the Senate and Vice President before, I mean, he literally led the talks in 2011 and he praised having those talks. This is what he’s always done in the past. And if he listens to the American public, more than 74% believe we need to sit down and find ways to eliminate this wasteful spending in Washington. So, I don’t believe he would change his behavior from before, and I know there’s a willingness on our side to find a way that we can find a reasonable and responsible way to get this done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, I mean, you know why I’m asking that of in terms of not linking one as leverage for the other.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yeah. In my first conversation, and to be fair, the President, when he called me to congratulate winning speaker, this is one of the first things I brought up to him. And he said we’d sit down together. Now, I know his staff tries to say something different, but I think the President is going to be willing to make an agreement together.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we’ll watch for that on Wednesday–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: I’m hopeful, yeah.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to dig into what you are willing to put on the table because Republicans campaigned on fiscal responsibility. You promised you won’t spend more next year than you did last year. Are you willing to consider any reductions to Social Security and Medicare?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: No. Let’s take those off the table–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Completely?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yeah. I mean, if you read our commitment to America, all we talk about is strengthening Medicare and Social Security. So, and I know the president says he doesn’t want to look at it, but we’ve got to make sure we strengthen those.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean by strengthen? You mean lift the retirement age, for example?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: No, no, no. What I’m talking about Social Security, Medicare, you keep that to the side. What I want to look at is they’ve increased spending by 30%, $400 billion in four years. When you look at what they have done, adding $10 trillion of debt for the next ten years in the short time period, if you just look a month ago, they went through and they never even passed a bill through appropriations in the Senate. While Mr. Schumer has been leader, he’s never passed a budget, he’s never passed the appropriation bill. He simply waits to the- to the end of the year and allowed two senators who are no longer here to write a $1.7 trillion omnibus bill.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you want to work with Democrats to come to agreement on a budget?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that what you’re saying?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yes, I- I first think our very first responsibility, we both should have to pass a budget. We both should have to pass the appropriate- appropriations bill so the country can see the direction we’re going. But you cannot continue the spending that has brought this inflation, that has brought our economic problems. We’ve got to get our spending under control.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, just fact check, though, 25% of the debt was incurred during the last four years of the Trump presidency. I mean, this is cumulative debt over many, many years.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yeah, well, over the short- this time period. But you’ve also found that you had a pandemic. And as that pandemic comes down, those programs leave. I’ve watched the president say he cut it. No, it is spending $500 billion more than what was projected. They have spent more and we’ve got to stop the waste.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is defense spending on the table?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well, look, I want to make sure we’re protected in our defense spending, but I want to make sure it’s effective and efficient. I want to look at every single dollar we’re spending, no matter where it’s being spent. I want to eliminate waste wherever it is.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But when you became Speaker, you did come to that agreement, I’ve referenced, of capping ’24 spending at ’22 levels. So that would call for reductions.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well listen– no, I mean, look, you’re going to tell me inside defense there’s no waste? Others? I mean–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So defense spending is up for negotiation?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: They spend a lot of- I think everything, when you look at discretionary, is sitting there. It’s like every single household, it’s like every single state. We shouldn’t just print more money, we should balance our budget. So I want to look at every single department. Where can we become more efficient, more effective, and more accountable? That should be–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So more efficiencies in Social Security and Medicare as well?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: The one thing I want to say, we take Social Security–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Completely?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: –and Medicare off the table.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you support a short-term debt limit extension until September? Buy more time for talks?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: I don’t want to sit and negotiate here. I’d rather sit down with the President and let’s have those discussions. The one thing I do know is we cannot continue the waste that is happening. We cannot continue just to spend more money and leverage the debt of the future of America. We’ve got to get to a balanced budget.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, and I think many people would agree with you on the issue of fiscal responsibility, but there’s that deadline on the calendar in terms of facing potential default. Are you saying–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Wait, wait a minute–
MARGARET BRENNAN: you will guarantee the United States will not do that?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: We’re not going to default. But let me be very honest with you right now. So we hit the statutory date, but let’s take a pause. We have hundreds of billions of dollars. This won’t come to fruition until sometime in June. So the responsible thing to do is sit down like two adults and start having that discussion. Unfortunately, the White House was saying before, like they wouldn’t even talk. I’m- I’m thankful that we’re meeting on Wednesday, but that’s exactly what we should be doing. And we should be coming to a responsible solution. Every family does this. What is- what has happened with the debt limit is you reached your credit card limit. Should we just continue to raise the limit? Or should we look at what we’re spending?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Paying past commitments.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: No, no. Chuck Schumer never passed a budget since he’s been leading. He’s never passed an appropriation bill. Those are the most basic things that Congress should do. And what- if you’re going to show to the American public where you want to spend your money and if you’re going to ask the hardworking taxpayer for more of their money, you first should lay out how you’re going to spend it and you should eliminate any waste so you don’t have to raise more taxes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But just to put a fine point on it, because it matters a lot to the markets in particular, you will avoid a default? You will not let that happen on your watch?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Look- there will not be a default. But what is really irresponsible is what the Democrats are doing right now, saying we just raise the limit.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But would you- would you get in the way if- if 15 Republicans came to you and said they would be willing to raise the debt limit, would you allow them to do so with Democrats?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Let me be very- the only- the only person who is getting in the way right now, is the President and Schumer. They won’t even pass a budget. They won’t even negotiate. We have now till June. I want to make sure we have something responsible, something that we can move forward on and something that we can balance our debt with. So I’m looking for sitting down. That’s exactly what I’ve been asking for. The only one who’s playing with the markets right now is the President to have the idea that he wouldn’t talk. Did the president really believe and really all your viewers, do you believe there’s no waste in government? Do you believe there was no waste in that $1.7 trillion? That’s what we were spending just four weeks ago. So I think the rational position here is sit down, eliminate the waste and put us on a path to balance.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll watch for that meeting on Wednesday. I want to ask you about your vision of leadership. You made a number of deals within your party to win the speakership. Senator Mitch McConnell, your Republican colleague, said “Hopefully McCarthy was not so weakened by all this that he can’t be an effective speaker.” How can you effectively govern with a very narrow majority and when your conference is so divided?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well, you know, that may be somebody else’s opinion. So let’s just see what my father always said, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” So, let’s- you see what happened in the first week. So in the very first week we have passed, what? We repealed the 87,000 IRS agents. We bipartisanly created a new select committee on China where 146 Democrats joined with us. We bipartisanly passed to stop the Strategic Petroleum Reserve being sold to China, where 113 Democrats joined with us. We just now, for the first time on the House, it hasn’t happened in seven years, the entire time the Democrats were in the majority where you had an open rule. And let me explain what that is. An open rule allows every single member of the House to offer an amendment on the bill. So what I’m trying to do here is let every voice in America have their ability inside the house. We opened the house back up so the public could actually join.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you’re arguing you haven’t been weakened, but–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: No, it’s only been strengthened. Maybe people didn’t like what they saw, that we didn’t win on the very first vote, but that was democracy. And what you found at the end of the day, we’re actually stronger. You know what else? We changed it where members of Congress now have to show up for work. I know in the Senate they don’t come very often, but if you look what we’ve been able to do, we’re transforming Congress. We’re looking for solutions–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you also allowed- what- just one member now can force a vote to oust you as speaker. How can you expect to serve in the next two years in this role?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Exactly how every other speaker has served with that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Without those rules like that, right now. That’s a risk. You really think you can control the Freedom Caucus and some of those more conservative members who gave you such a hard time?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Everybody has a voice. But let me- let me explain that. That one vote to vacate, that’s not new. That’s been around for 100 years. The only person who took it away when they got a small majority was Nancy Pelosi. So Nancy felt she did not have the power to stay in office if that was there. I’m very comfortable in where we are. So I don’t have any fear in that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You don’t regret any of the concessions you made?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: The only concession I made was taking it from 5 to 1 where it’s been around for 100 years.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the makeup of your caucus.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: According to CBS records, 70% of the House GOP members denied the results of the 2020 election. You’ve put many of them on very key committees, intelligence, homeland security, oversight. Why are you elevating people who are denying reality like that?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well, if you look to the Democrats, their ranking member, Raskin, had the same thing, denied Trump or Bush was in there. Bennie Thompson, who was–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you see those numbers we just put up there? 70%.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Did you also be fair and equal and where you looked at- Raskin did the same thing. Bennie Thompson, who’s a ranking member and was the chair. These individuals were chair in the Democratic Party.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m asking you as leader, Kevin McCarthy’s house, why you made these choices? These were your choices.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yeah they’re my choices, but they’re the conference choices. But I’m also asking you, when you look to see just Republicans, Democrats have done the same thing. So maybe it’s not denying. Maybe it’s the only opportunity they have to have a question about what went on during the election. So if you want to hold Republicans to that equation, why don’t you also hold Democrats? Why don’t you hold Jamie Raskin? Why don’t you hold Bennie Thompson, when Democrats had appointed them to be chair? I never once heard you ask Nancy Pelosi or any Democrat that question when they were in power in the majority, when they questioned–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re talking about things going back to 2000, which was the time when I didn’t have this show back then, which is why I’m asking you now about your leadership–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: No, but they were- they were in power last Congress. So why- why–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you’re talking about questions from 2000’s election.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: But you’re asking me about questions from another congress.
MARGARET BRENNAN: About choices you just made– you just made.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: You’re asking questions for another Congress. So the only thing I’m simply– These- these are members who just got elected by their constituents and we put them into committees, and I’m proud to do it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Let me ask you about some specifics then. Marjorie Taylor Greene, you put her on a new subcommittee to investigate the origins of COVID.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: She compared mask requirements to the type of abuse Jews were subjected to during the Holocaust. She called for Fauci to be arrested and imprisoned, and she spread conspiracy theories. How is anyone supposed to take that work seriously and find that we’re credible?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Very well. You look at all of it. So you have all the questions out there. I think with the American–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You think these are legitimate questions?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: I think what the American public wants to see is an open dialogue in the process. This is a select committee where people can have all the questions they want and you’ll see the outcome.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know that there is a lot of doubt about institutions and faith in institutions and–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Oh, yeah, when you saw what happened in Congress where they had proxy voting, where bills didn’t go through committees–.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I don’t think most people know what proxy voting is.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well let- well let- Well, let’s explain what–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Approval–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: But I think it would be fair to your viewers–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Approval level, according to Gallup, of Congress, is at 22%. Approval level of journalists is also not very high, I’ll give you that. But doesn’t it further wear down credibility when you put someone who is under state, local, federal and international investigation as a representative of your party on committees–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Are you talking about Swalwell?
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m talking about George Santos, representative from New York.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: We should have that discussion. So let’s have that discussion. You want to bring up Santos, and let’s talk about the institution itself, because I agree wholeheartedly that Congress is broken. And I think you- I think your listeners or viewers should understand what proxy voting was because it never took place because it never took place in Congress before.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m asking you about George Santos.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: I know you asked me a question. Let me ask you–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because you could put it to a vote to try to oust him–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: You asked me a question. I’d appreciate if you let me answer. So let’s go through this because it’s not one simple answer. Congress is broken based upon what has transpired in the last Congress. The American public wasn’t able to come in to see us. People voted by proxy, meaning you didn’t have to show up for work, Bills didn’t go- have to go through committee. So what I’m trying to do is open the people’s house back for the people so their voices there- so people are held accountable. So now, as I just had in the last week, for the first time in seven years, every member got to vote.
MARGARET BRENNAN: If you got a third of your caucus to vote to oust him, you could do so.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Let me–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You don’t think you could get your Republicans to do that?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: I wasn’t finished answering the question. So, if every single new person brought into Congress was elected by their constituents, what their constituents have done has lend their voice to the American public. So those members can all serve on committee. Now, what I’m trying to do is change some of these committees as well, like the Intel Committee is different than any other committee–
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you’re just not going to answer the question I asked?
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well, no, no. You don’t get a question whether I answer it. You asked a question, I’m trying to get you through that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I don’t think you’ve said the name George Santos like once.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: But you know what?
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re talking about proxy voting–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: No, no, no. But, you know, you started the question with Congress was broken, and I agreed with you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No, Congress–
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: But I was answering the question of how Congress is broken and how we’re changing it. So if I can finish the question that you asked me how Congress is broken, I equated every single member. They would just got elected by their- by their constituents. They have a right to serve. So that means that Santos can serve on a committee the same way Swalwell, who had a relationship with a Chinese spy, but they will not serve on Intel because I think–
MARGARET BRENNAN: They’re wrapping me in the control room.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: Well that’s unfortunate. I wish I could answer the question.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I would love to have you back.
SPEAKER MCCARTHY: I would love to be able to come back and have time to answer the questions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ve spent a lot of time here and I have more questions for you, but I got to go. So we’ll be right back.