When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered her farewell speech as Democratic leader Thursday, one person was notably missing from the chamber: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy has yet to publicly congratulate Pelosi, whose decision to step down marks the end of her history-making, 20-year reign as the party's leader.
He told reporters Thursday that he didn't watch Pelosi's speech because of "meetings."
"I had meetings but normally the others would do it during votes — she could've done that, I would've been there," McCarthy said.
When asked what he makes of Pelosi stepping down from leadership, McCarthy said, "It's not just her. It's Steny [Hoyer], too. I mean, think about — they both had quite a career of how many decades they have been here working through. So, it's a whole new generation for the Democrats."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, left, speaks during a news conference with members of the House Republican leadership, Nov. 15, 2022, after voting on top House Republican leadership positions, on Capitol Hill.Jacquelyn Martin/AP
McCarthy earlier this week clinched the Republican nomination for speaker in the next Congress, fending off a challenge from Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs amid intraparty frustration over their disappointing performance in the midterms.
The nomination was a key early vote on the path to holding the gavel but the real test will be in January, when the full floor will vote on who will become the next speaker. McCarthy will need 218 votes to clinch the position.
MORE: McCarthy clinches GOP nomination for speaker of the House despite challenger: Sources
In an interview on Fox Business Thursday, McCarthy told Larry Kudlow Pelosi is leaving leadership because she "just doesn't want to have to hand me the gavel."
"It has to be the minority leader, which I believe that will be Hakeem Jeffries," McCarthy said. "But it's interesting, I had a friend text me. 'So, I just saw Nancy Pelosi has finally been fired, but I think she's leaving because she's still staying in Congress. She just doesn't want to have to hand me the gavel.' Probably that's the reason."
McCarthy and Pelosi have been political rivals for years. McCarthy once joked about wanting to hit Pelosi with the speaker's gavel, while she once called him a "moron" for his criticism of COVID mask mandates.
But the passing of the gavel's usually has been a bipartisan tradition. McCarthy handed Pelosi the gavel in 2019 when Democrats took back control of the House. Pelosi had previously handed it off to Paul Ryan in 2015, when Republicans were in the majority.
With Pelosi stepping down, Jeffries is likely to succeed her as Democratic leader. The New York Democrat officially announced Friday his bid to become House Democratic leader.
MORE: What to know about Hakeem Jeffries, Pelosi's likely successor as House Democratic leader
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks from the House Chambers of the Capitol Building, Nov. 17, 2022.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Not many Republicans were seen on the floor Thursday when Pelosi announced she was stepping down. The only member of Republican leadership spotted at the speech was Rep. Steve Scalise, who stood and clapped when Pelosi mentioned her husband, who was attacked in a violent home invasion last month.
While McCarthy's been quiet on Pelosi's announcement, past GOP speakers like Ryan and John Boehner have congratulated her — as has Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
"The Speaker and I have disagreed frequently and forcefully over the years, but I have seen firsthand the depth and intensity of her commitment to public service," McConnell said in a statement. "There is no question that the impact of Speaker Pelosi's consequential and path-breaking career will long endure."
After her speech, Pelosi told print reporters from the Washington Post, New York Times and other newspapers more about her decision to leave.
"I quite frankly, personally, have been ready to leave for a while," she said. "Because there are things I want to do. I like to dance; I like to sing. There's a life out there, right?"