HOUSE SPEAKER SELECTION DELAYED: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has dropped out of the race for House Speaker. Boehner has delayed the GOP conference vote (slated for today) indefinitely.
It happened suddenly. A source close to McCarthy told National Review on Wednesday that the majority leader was confident that he had secured about 200 votes, and possibly gotten all the way to 218. At 1:00 P.M., just an hour after the scheduled meeting at which he withdrew from the race, came a statement from his office: “Over the last week it has become clear to me that our conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader. I have always put the conference ahead of myself. Therefore, I am withdrawing my candidacy for speaker of the House.”
Almost immediately, new names for the position began to float on Capitol Hill. Trey Gowdy (“If the Hillary hearing goes well, Trey Gowdy will get a tremendous amount of pressure,” says one House Republican, referring to the Benghazi committee’s scheduled interview with the former secretary of state, set to take place later this month. “I don’t know that he has the heart to do it.”) Peter Roskam. Jason Chaffetz. An interim speaker. Somebody, anybody.
In a phone call, McCarthy tells National Review he wants Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan to run, but Ryan issued a statement Thursday ruling out a bid. So right now, McCarthy says, the conference may be ungovernable. “I don’t know,” he says. “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom.”
McCarthy’s move followed something of a political rock bottom of his own that stretched over two brutal weeks. Even before he announced his bid, he faced resistance from conservatives who viewed him as too closely tied to Boehner, the outgoing Speaker. All week, the Tea Party Patriots had been circulating T-shirts on Capitol Hill with the term “McBoehner” emblazoned across the front, along with an orange, wine-swilling, cigarette-smoking amalgam of Boehner and McCarthy.
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL)–a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives–is now emerging as a more likely contender, obtaining the official endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is still in the race, but appears to have fewer votes lined up than Webster.
Chaffetz was expected to finish third in the GOP caucus vote after McCarthy and Rep. Daniel Webster, a Florida Republican who on Wednesday nabbed the endorsement of the 40-something-strong House Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Steve King, one of the House’s more conservative members, said that he saw Webster with up to 70 votes in the race so far and that he was far ahead of Chaffetz.
“What I saw was Webster’s numbers growing,” King said. “I didn’t see that Chaffetz’s numbers were growing and they may have shrunk, I don’t know.”
King said McCarthy’s withdrawal was an opening for Webster, not Chaffetz.
Asked whether Chaffetz now had a better shot, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was abrupt.
“No,” said the former chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Chaffetz now heads.
Boehner has not scheduled a new date for the GOP conference to vote on his replacement. Rumors are flying that Boehner is maneuvering to stay on as Speaker until a clear GOP consensus emerges. I have even heard rumors that Boehner is considering staying on as Speaker after his term of office expires (he has also announced that he will not seek reelection), as the Speaker of the House does not have to be an elected member of the House.
If Boehner stays on as Speaker much longer, it will be horrific for the GOP, further deepening the anger of the base and dividing the members of the House. It’s long past time for him to go, and his feeble attempts to stay on any longer is only harming, not helping, the GOP.
The GOP conference needs to pick a replacement as soon as possible. Once the GOP conference has picked its candidate, it will be incumbent upon all members of the GOP to unite and support that candidate, regardless of which “side” the candidate is on. To do otherwise would be to allow the Democrats to pick the next Speaker.