McCarthy's popularity surges since becoming speaker, amid efforts to rein in U.S. spending
McCarthy promised to fight for budgetary concessions from the Democrats earlier this year in a bid to win over his conservative detractors.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy took his post in January with polling numbers that suggested more U.S. adults had an unfavorable opinion of the California Republican that those who favored him. But his numbers are now soaring as he leads the lower chamber and engage in high-stakes, eleventh-hour negotiations with President Joe Biden over raising the federal debt ceiling.
In January, when McCarthy was denied the speaker's gavel through 15 rounds of House voting – including no votes from members of his own GOP conference – an Economist/YouGov survey showed 42% of respondents held a negative opinion of him. Thirty percent had a favorable one, giving McCarthy, battered yet victorious, a net score of minus-12.
Now, in May, with projections showing the U.S. will default on its debt by the end of the month unless the ceiling is raised, McCarthy's so-called "favorability" number is 40% and his "un-favorability" number is 36%, which represent an overall plus-4 grade and 16 point upswing since January.
While his negotiations with Biden have garnered national attention, his more so-called "Inside the Beltway" efforts to deliver on the conservative agenda he promised if elected speaker has also won him praised.
“He’s doing a good job,” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who led efforts to keep McCarthy from becoming speaker, recently said. "I feel pretty good about the good faith that’s been shown."
The nation hit its $31.38 trillion spending limit in January, prompting the Treasury Department to resort to "extraordinary measures" to pay the government's bills. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has repeatedly warned that lawmakers must reach a deal by June 1 to avert a national default.
Whereas Democrats favor a clean increase to the debt limit, Republicans have favored matching any increase with caps on spending to address the mounting national debt. McCarthy promised to fight for budgetary concessions from Democrats earlier this year in a bid to win over his conservative detractors.
Thus far, he has followed through, with the Republican-led House passing a bill to increase the debt limit for one year by $1.5 trillion and to impose a cap on domestic spending growth of 1% per year.
"House Republicans just delivered a plan that will address the country’s debt crisis. Our conference came together to pass the only plan in Washington that will tackle the debt ceiling, stop excessive federal spending and inflation, and put our country back on track for sustained economic growth," he said at the time.
That bill is unlikely to secure approval in the Democrat-dominated Senate, and Biden has vowed to veto it should the plan ever reach his desk. McCarthy, however, has remained adamant that congressional leaders will reach an agreement with the White House and continues to negotiate with Biden.
It remains somewhat unclear how the debt ceiling issue has impacted McCarthy's image. However, polling data seems to suggest that the public holds Biden slight more responsible than House Republicans for the ongoing standoff.
Thirty-three percent of respondents in the May YouGov survey said Biden was more responsible, compared with 27% who pointed to the GOP. Thirty-two percent held both equally responsible.
In total, 76% said they were paying at least some attention to the matter, with 43% backing a debt ceiling increase compared to 34% who opposed such a move.
Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.