McHenry was born in Gastonia, North Carolina. He grew up in suburban Gastonia, the son of the owner of the Dixie Lawn Care Company, and attended Ashbrook High School. While at Ashbrook High School, McHenry participated in the Close Up Washington civic education programs. A Roman Catholic, McHenry was the youngest of five children. His parents are now deceased.
Halfway through North Carolina State University, McHenry transferred to Belmont Abbey College. At Belmont, McHenry founded the school's College Republican chapter, then became chair of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans and served as treasurer for the College Republican National Committee.
His first run for public office was for the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1998, while still a junior in college; he won the primary but lost in the general election. The Democratic winner was the father of a high school classmate.
After earning a B.A. in history in 1999, McHenry worked for the media consulting firm DCI/New Media, in Washington, D.C. He was involved in Rick Lazio's campaign against Hillary Clinton during the November 2000 United States Senate election in New York; his main project was running a Web site, NotHillary.com. In 2012, he received an Honorary M.B.A. in Entrepreneurship from Yorktown University.
In mid-2000, McHenry was hired by Karl Rove to be the National Coalition Director for George W. Bush's successful 2000 presidential campaign. In late 2000 and early 2001, he was a volunteer coordinator for Bush's inaugural committee. After working for six months in 2001 as a special assistant to Elaine Chao, the United States Secretary of Labor in Washington, D.C., McHenry returned to North Carolina and ran again for the North Carolina General Assembly, winning in the November 2002 general election.
A resident of Denver, North Carolina, McHenry represented the state's 10th House district, including constituents in Gaston County, for the 2003–2004 session. While in the legislature, he sat on the House Appropriations Committee.Committee on Financial Services
Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit
Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity
Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives
Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs (Chairman)
At age 33, McHenry was the youngest member of the 110th United States Congress; however, 27-year-old Aaron Schock of Illinois took office in the 111th United States Congress in January 2009.
McHenry serves on two House Committees: Financial Services, and Oversight and Government Reform. McHenry holds two House Republican leadership positions; he is a Deputy Whip and Vice Chairman of Finance for the National Republican Congressional Committee's Executive Committee.
Since 2011, McHenry has been Chairman of the Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services, and Bailouts of Private and Public Programs on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In this capacity he has held hearings on municipal bankruptcies and bailouts and the future of TARP.
On May 29, 2014, McHenry called for Eric Shinseki, the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary, to resign. This was due to "revelations of mismanagement and mistreatment at VA facilities in Phoenix and across the country." In a press release, McHenry said: "The treatment of veterans by the Phoenix VA is nothing short of disgusting. These brave Americans have given so much for our country and for them to be subjected to this horrendous treatment is repugnant. After I reviewed yesterday's interim report, it is clear that Secretary Shinseki has failed his most basic responsibility of caring for America's heroes. The report found these issues not to be isolated incidents but rather systemic problems throughout the VA system, a system Secretary Shinseki has led since the President took the oath of office in 2009. In light of these most recent revelations, I believe it is time Secretary Shinseki resign and allow for new leadership that will protect our nation's veterans. While the treatment of veterans uncovered in the report is awful, I must commend the staffs at both the Hickory outpatient clinic and Asheville VA Medical Center who have served the veterans in my district with distinction. I appreciate their service to our veterans."
In the 109th Congress, McHenry authored legislation which would increase the penalty for anyone who manufactured methamphetamine in the presence of a child. The legislation, H.R. 1616, was incorporated into legislation which passed the House and Senate. It was signed into law as part of the Patriot Act reauthorization in March, 2006.
In the 110th Congress, in the Committee on Financial Services, McHenry worked with Rep. Al Green (D-TX) on legislation requiring mortgage lenders to simplify their mortgage disclosure forms for home buyers. Their Mortgage Disclosure Simplification Act was integrated into H.R. 3915, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007, comprehensive housing reform legislation passed by the House. It awaits action by the Senate.
In 2008, McHenry opposed H.R. 5767, the Payment Systems Protection Act (a bill that sought to place a moratorium on enforcement of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act while the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve defined "unlawful Internet gambling").
McHenry was honored by the North Carolina Chapters of the American Legion and Marine Corps League after assisting in bringing a Veteran's Community Based Outpatient Clinic to Hickory, a project his predecessor Cass Ballenger had begun before his retirement.
After the passing of Senator Jesse Helms, McHenry sponsored a resolution (H.Res. 608) honoring Helms's life and service. Every member of the North Carolina delegation co-sponsored his resolution, and it was passed by the House of Representatives by unanimous consent.
McHenry authored the Independence Prize Act of 2007 (H.R. 2867), which would authorize a prize of up to $1 billion to an American company or individual who invented a transformative source of energy to replace fossil fuels. McHenry also co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation designed to open drilling for oil in the outer continental shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as increased use of nuclear and coal pollution mitigation energy.
On March 2, 2010, McHenry proposed new legislation, H.R. 4705, that would redesign the face of the $50 bill to include the likeness of the 40th President, Ronald Reagan.
The House passed two bills sponsored by Congressman McHenry in 2011. The first terminated the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The second was the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, commonly referred to as Crowdfunding and was introduced to foster relationships between investors and entrepreneurs. Specifically, it permits crowdfunding issuances that offer an equity stake (securities) to investors. In 2012, McHenry's Entrepreneur Access to Capital bill was integrated into the larger JOBS Act (H.R. 3606), which was passed by the House on March 8, 2012. The bill was also passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama on April 5, 2012.
McHenry stirred further controversy with his remarks on April 1, 2008, regarding a trip to Iraq. Speaking to 150 Republicans attending the Lincoln County GOP Dinner, he called a contractor, reported first by blogs as a "U.S. soldier" – performing security duties in Iraq as "a two-bit security guard" because the contractor denied McHenry access to a gym.
We spent the night in the Green Zone, in the poolhouse of one of Saddam’s palaces. A little weird, I got to be honest with you. But I felt safe. And so in the morning, I got up early – not that I make this a great habit – but I went to the gym because I just couldn’t sleep and everything else. Well, sure enough, the guard wouldn’t let me in. Said I didn’t have the correct credentials. It’s 5:00 in the morning. I haven’t had sleep. I was not very happy with this two bit security guard. So you know, I said, “I want to see your supervisor.” Thirty minutes later, the supervisor wasn’t happy with me, they escort me back to my room. It happens. I guess I didn’t need to work out anyway.
He later apologized, saying that "it was a poor choice of words."
McHenry was also the subject of discussion regarding a video, posted on his Congressional campaign website, that featured him in the Green Zone in Baghdad, pointing out landmarks and destruction after missile attacks. Veteran's affairs blog VetVoice posted a scathing attack, claiming that McHenry's video violated OPSEC, Operational Security. McHenry later removed the video after discussing the information with the Pentagon, which requested McHenry not place the video back online. Lance Sigmon, McHenry's opponent, later went on to call a press conference to demand an investigation regarding the full nature of the video's effect on Green Zone Troops. Sigmon attacked McHenry in a campaign ad regarding this controversy, prompting McHenry to threaten legal action, claiming the ad was false.
On April 16, 2008, Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call revealed that McHenry used funds from his political action committee (PAC), "More Conservatives", to fund the defense of former aide Michael Aaron Lay's voter fraud charges incurred during McHenry's 2004 race. McHenry gave Lay $20,000 to pay legal bills on voter fraud charges brought while Lay worked for him. These expenses were labeled as "Legal Expense Donation", according to Federal Election Commission reports. Lay agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, which stipulated he complete 100 hours of community service and pay $240.50 in court fees and $250.00 in community service fees to have the charges dismissed. Lay, an employee of the 2004 campaign, lived in McHenry's home in Cherryville which also served as the campaign headquarters during the 2004 election, was indicted for voter fraud in McHenry's election, allegedly voted illegally in two separate instances. McHenry, in response, claimed the case was part of a "three-year smear campaign" by District Attorney Locke Bell, despite Locke Bell fund raising for McHenry in previous elections.
McHenry has also been called out by the Center for Responsive Politics' Capital Eye, who found evidence that McHenry had been taking money from Countrywide Financial, a company now involved in the subprime mortgage crisis. McHenry took $5,500 from Countrywide's PAC, and served in an investigation into CEO payout fraud, of which one of the target companies was Countrywide Financial itself.
On May 24, 2011, Elizabeth Warren – appointed by President Obama to oversee the development of the new U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – attended a House subcommittee meeting chaired by McHenry, who invited her because he felt she had given misleading testimony during another hearing. Earlier that day, McHenry had appeared on CNBC and accused Warren of lying to Congress about her involvement in government inquiries into mortgage servicing.
The meeting had several late and last minute changes, so Warren altered her schedule to accommodate the chair's request. Around 2:15 pm, McHenry called for a temporary recess to partake in a floor vote. In response, Warren indicated that McHenry's staff had agreed to the 2:15 pm closing time to allow her ample time to attend another meeting. McHenry replied, "You had no agreement.... You're making this up, Ms. Warren. This is not the case." As Warren and some in the audience reacted with surprise, Rep. Elijah Cummings interjected, "Mr. Chairman ... I'm trying to be cordial here, but you just accused the lady of lying. I think you need to clear this up with your staff."
Although the CFPB confirmed the agreement, McHenry refused to apologize for his remarks to Warren.
The Hickory Daily Record, the largest paper in McHenry's district, called for McHenry to apologize, saying that it was "unacceptable for any member of Congress, especially a subcommittee chairman," to treat a witness in the manner with which he treated Warren.
In 2004, after one term in the North Carolina General Assembly, McHenry successfully ran for Congress in the 10th Congressional district, which had come open when nine-term incumbent Cass Ballenger retired. McHenry faced a heavily contested primary in the 10th and bested his closest opponent, Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman, in a primary runoff by only 85 votes.
In the general election, McHenry won 64% of the popular vote, defeating Democrat Anne Fischer. However, it was generally thought McHenry's victory in the primary runoff was tantamount to election in November: his district is considered North Carolina's most Republican district, having sent Republicans to represent it since 1963.
In the 2006 election, McHenry defeated Democrat Richard Carsner, gaining almost 62% of the vote on the way to a second term representing the 10th District.
In 2008, McHenry defeated Lance Sigmon in the Republican primary, winning 67% of the vote, and faced Democrat Daniel Johnson in the general election. Johnson was considered the strongest and best-funded Democrat to run in the district in over 20 years. In part because of this, the Cook Political Report moved the race from "Safe Republican" to "Likely Republican." This meant that in Charlie Cook's opinion, while McHenry still had a considerable advantage, a victory by Johnson could not be ruled out. Shortly after the Cook Political Report's update, Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report, also a nonpartisan analysis of American politics and elections, addressed the race and indicated his opinion that an upset is unlikely. McHenry won the 2008 election, 58% to 42%.
McHenry easily defeated Democratic challenger Jeff Gregory.
McHenry easily defeated Republican primary challengers Ken Fortenberry and Don Peterson in May 2012 with 73% of the vote in the redrawn 10th District.