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McCarthy's constituents watched as negotiations with Biden avoided debt default


Kevin McCarthy cleared his first major hurdle as Speaker of the House last week, securing passage of a deal to raise the debt limit and avoid a default. Back home, some constituents are praising the Republican lawmaker's handling of the tense negotiations. KVPR's Joshua Yeager reports from Bakersfield, Calif., in the heart of McCarthy's district.

JOSHUA YEAGER, BYLINE: The inviting aroma of oxtail stew, lamb chops and other traditional Basque dishes wafts through the air at Wool Growers. Bakersfield is home to one of the country's largest Basque communities, and the 67-year-old family-run restaurant is a staple here. Owner Jenny Maitia-Poncetta and many patrons have watched the debt ceiling showdown unfold from a tiny TV that hangs above the bar. But for the restaurateur and longtime McCarthy supporter, the saga is more personal.

JENNY MAITIA-PONCETTA: We're very proud of Kevin because he is our hometown boy.

YEAGER: Less enamored with the Bakersfield boy, though, are members of his own party and the far-right Freedom Caucus. The group of hardline conservatives expressed publicly their disdain for a deal they argue doesn't go far enough to cut government spending. Ultimately, the bill passed the House with more Democratic votes than Republicans. But Maitia-Poncetta and many local Republicans view McCarthy's willingness to compromise as a strength.

MAITIA-PONCETTA: I am a Republican, and I'm proud of being a Republican. But I know we need to work together to make it work.

YEAGER: And besides, she says, the deal saw nondefense spending shrink for the first time in years. Deeper cuts would be ideal, but that's still a win for conservatives.

MAITIA-PONCETTA: Anything is better than nothing.

YEAGER: Diner Randy McDaniel agrees, between sips of hearty vegetable soup.

RANDY MCDANIEL: I'm very conservative, but I think the people that are too far right are going to kill us if they don't get in the middle a little bit.

YEAGER: In particular, McDaniel says he's happy to see the expansion of work requirements tied to food stamp eligibility.

MCDANIEL: I'm good with helping people that really need it, but I think there's too many people out there that are not doing their part to try and improve.

YEAGER: Ivy Cargile is a political science professor at California State University Bakersfield. She's been watching the discussions closely and says McCarthy fared better than expected, given his contentious path to the speakership.

IVY CARGILE: The debt ceiling bill passed, and this is a win for him. This is a solid win for him.

YEAGER: She says a deal to raise the debt limit and spare the country an unprecedented financial crisis was hardly a foregone conclusion.

CARGILE: I was concerned. In Kern County, poverty levels are high. People do live paycheck to paycheck. And for some people, that paycheck is from the federal government.

YEAGER: A federal government that will see its own funding fight at the end of the year. And with the Republican conference fractured, and a new rule that any single member can motion to fire the speaker, McCarthy's win in Washington may be short lived. For NPR News, I'm Joshua Yeager in Bakersfield.


Joshua Yeager