There are two kinds of pain,” House Majority Whip Frank Underwood says in the opening scene of Netflix’s original series House of Cards. “The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.” Then he snaps a dogs neck.
The scene is grimly depraved, foreshadowing the spiral of backroom knuckle-breaking, extramarital sex, and inter-party murder that Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, takes us down over the course of Season One.
Needless to say, Washington is completely obsessed. Two months after its release, House of Cards remains the subject of endless debate in Beltway political circles, and media types are still arguing over who the depraved characters most resemble.
But despite Washington’s fascination with its onscreen caricature, the real House Majority Whip, California Republican Kevin McCarthy, says his job bears little resemblance to Spacey’s performance.
“It’s not really accurate. We don’t murder animals or members or anything like that,” McCarthy told Business Insider. “And we would never be sitting in our office when a vote is going on on the floor.”
In reality, McCarthy’s role — at least as he describes it — sounds more like a camp counselor than a backroom wheeler-and-dealer. His office, he says, is an “idea factory” — a place for Republican House members to toss around a Nerf ball, eat pizza, and talk about legislation.
“It is a place for members to come, hang out, participate, talk about different solutions,” McCarthy said. “I try to drive my office more as a start-up of ideas.”
McCarthy’s laidback whipping style is markedly different from his predecessors — an illustrious list that includes Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney, all of whom reportedly relished their reputations as iron-fisted power-brokers.
“The Whip’s office is much different than the Whip offices of the past,” McCarthy said. “America has changed. You don’t have earmarks, you have greater transparency.”
“The Whip’s office is almost more educational — educating members on the bill itself, listening to members ahead of time.”
Still, McCarthy hasn’t been above helping Spacey get into character as Frank Underwood.
“Spacey called me the other day and he leaves this message, he goes ‘Congressman? This is Congressman Frank Underwood,” McCarthy said, putting on his best imitation of Spacey’s Underwood drawl. “We’ve talked a few times, he hung out with me for a few days.”
“When he first wanted to talk to me, I didn’t want to talk to him because I knew how it was going to be portrayed, it was going to be Hollywood,” McCarthy added. “But then I found out that he was supposed to be a Democrat and I had no problem.”
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