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Michael McCaul
“I think America needs to lead the free world and not abandon our allies now,” Rep. Michael McCaul told NOTUS. Kevin Wolf/AP

Michael McCaul Stands Apart in the House GOP. But He Has the Speaker’s Ear.

“I think of my role as a foreign policy, national security adviser to the speaker,” the Texas Republican told NOTUS.

Rep. Michael McCaul doesn’t share many views on foreign policy with former President Donald Trump or the growing Trump-aligned faction of the GOP conference. But he feels he has the ear of House Speaker Mike Johnson, and he hopes to use it to avoid what he fears could be another world war.

“I think of my role as a foreign policy, national security adviser to the speaker,” he said in an interview with NOTUS this week. “And he leans on that. I think I can provide him with the right judgment.”

At a time when many of his close friends have decided to retire, McCaul has shown no signs of wanting out of Washington. Part of the explanation is his influence has never been larger, especially with wars in Ukraine and Gaza and a relatively inexperienced speaker.

As the current chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, McCaul played a crucial role in advising Johnson during the heated debate on security funding for Ukraine and Israel.

“I’m proud that we were able to get that passed, proud of the speaker for making the right call and being on the right side of history, as I told him, profile in courage, to put that on the right side of history above your job security,” McCaul said.

Johnson told NOTUS in a statement that he was “grateful for [McCaul’s] friendship and his important work on behalf of our country and our conference.”

“Chairman McCaul is one of our most effective leaders in Congress, and one who brings wisdom and a wealth of experience to the Foreign Affairs Committee in these very consequential times,” the speaker said.

One of the GOP votes against the security supplemental last month came from Marjorie Taylor Greene, who, after the passage of aid to Ukraine and Israel, introduced a motion to remove Johnson as speaker.

“I think the motion to vacate has been abused,” McCaul said. “The motion to vacate has been used to the detriment of the nation because it threw our schedule way off.”

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In talking about his foreign policy views, ones at odds with seemingly the majority of Republicans who say they are “America First,” McCaul also talks about his dad, a World War II vet, and the rampant isolationism in the years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“We have been the leader of the free world, and I like to break into: project strength, you get peace; you project weakness, you get conflict and war,” he said. “I think the United States has projected weakness, which is why you’ve seen Putin invading Ukraine, Chairman Xi and their alliance, and now the Ayatollah, with a hot war in the Middle East now. I mean, all three of them are in this together. You don’t pick and choose your enemies. They choose us, and they’re there.”

“I think America needs to lead the free world and not abandon our allies now,” McCaul said before quickly saying that Trump was right that NATO allies need to “step it up” in funding the alliance.

McCaul believes he’s been able to move his colleagues on foreign policy by literally taking them to conflict zones.

“When I was in Poland, right after the invasion, I saw these mothers and their children. Men had left behind to fight, and the Poles said it was just like 1939. And it was very profound on me,” he said. “I think it’s interesting for all the members who have gone to Ukraine, and they’ve seen it firsthand. They’ve really come back and changed their perspective.”

McCaul singled out Rep. Max Miller as someone who changed his mind on Ukraine aid after visiting the country with McCaul. Miller received a standing ovation at a town hall in his district after voting for Ukraine aid, The New York Times reported this week.

McCaul had considered running for speaker himself after Kevin McCarthy was removed in October, frustrated over how constrained his party was while Israel was under threat after the attack on Oct. 7. A source close to McCaul said he decided against running after realizing he likely wouldn’t win and would be miserable if he somehow did.

“I like getting things done,” McCaul said. “I didn’t come up here and yell and scream on the floor and demonize people and say nasty things going down. And that probably goes to my faith too. I just wasn’t raised that way.”

When asked if he was specifically alluding to Rep. Chip Roy, who represents the district next to his own and has been known to yell and scream on the floor, McCaul just laughed.

The two had an intense conversation on the House floor just before the security aid vote. McCaul said he was reminding Roy that the majority of the aid would go to the U.S. military.

“It helps our national security and helps build our military, which I still believe in. I thought Republicans believed in a strong military, strong national defense, and I’m of that ilk.” McCaul added.

But as different as he is from many in his party, McCaul is still very conservative. He backed Rep. Jim Jordan’s bid for speaker, and he partnered with Greene and several other conservatives to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

McCaul’s future isn’t totally certain, even as he sticks it out in the House for now. That’s especially true if Trump wins in November. Despite their obvious policy differences, Trump often called him to the White House when he was president, McCaul said earlier this year. When asked if he would consider potentially serving in the cabinet in a second Trump term, he said he would have to consider it.

“But I would have to go eyes wide open.”

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.