The race for speaker of the House got a shakeup today as the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced he will run for the post being vacated by retiring John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was critical of presumed front-runner Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) comments linking the Benghazi investigation to Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.
“I am running for Speaker of the House of Representatives because I want to lead the way on tackling the toughest issues facing the United States of America,” Chaffetz said in a statement this morning.
“The American people have entrusted Republicans with the largest majority since the 1920’s, but with that majority comes a responsibility to get the job done that we were elected to do,” he added. “I came to Congress to help fix problems, and as Speaker I will fight every day to make that happen. I look forward to sharing my vision for the Speakership with my colleagues and the American people.”
Chaffetz, 48, was first elected in 2008, giving him two fewer years of congressional experience than McCarthy. He slept on a cot in his office when he came to the Hill to convey a message of fiscal responsibility.
“I’m very supportive of Kevin McCarthy, but those statements are just absolutely inappropriate, they should be withdrawn, Mr. McCarthy should apologize,” Chaffetz slammed McCarthy last week on MSNBC. “I just — I think it was absolutely wrong. It’s not — once upon a time it was myself and Trey Gowdy that were working on the Benghazi effort. It’s grown and expanded because we want to get to truth.”
“But to suggest that there was any sort of political motivation is absolutely — it’s not fair to Mr. Gowdy, it’s not fair to myself. And most importantly it’s not fair to those four families who lost those loved ones. That’s not why we’re doing this.”
McCarthy did backtrack his comments, telling Fox, “I did not imply in any way that that work is political, of course it is not. Look at the way they have carried themselves out.”
Chaffetz told Fox News Sunday this morning that his support for McCarthy dissipated because “things have changed and there’s really a math problem.”
“You need 218 votes on the floor of the House. There’s 246 Republicans that will vote, but there are nearly 50 people and a growing number that will not and cannot vote for Kevin McCarthy as the speaker on the floor. He’s going to fall short of the 218 votes on the floor of House,” Chaffetz said.
He stressed that McCarthy has majority of the conference support to win the closed-door secret ballot on Thursday. “But in many ways it doesn’t matter because the real vote is when you call that name out in front of everybody on the floor of the House.”
“But I just don’t believe that the nominee, if it’s Kevin McCarthy can actually get to 218,” Chaffetz continued. “That’s why I’ve offer myself as a candidate to try to bridge that divide. I think those 50-plus people find I’m a fair, even-balanced person, that I can bridge that divide between — there are more centrist members and some of the more far right-wing members. That’s why I’ve entered this race.”
Over the summer, Chaffetz stripped Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of the insurgency against Boehner, of his Oversight subcommittee chairmanship as punishment for defying House leadership on fast-track trade authority.
“I think I learned from that lesson. That you’re not going to do things by cutting people off at the knees. I think I was a good leader and that I listened for an hour and 40 minds with my committee and reconsidered that decision,” he said this morning.
“We’ve got to win the argument and make case, not just knock people over the head if they don’t what we want to do. So, it’s a lesson learned. I think I’m better for it, and I think Mark is better for it, and we’re certainly good friends on this day.”
Chaffetz also responded to critics who charged he spent more time at the Planned Parenthood hearing talking about the organization’s finances with not enough questions about body-parts trafficking.
“We don’t have all the videos yet, but I do think it’s legitimate for a not-for-profit organization to question how they spend money. Exorbitant salaries, first class travel, charter airplane, they’re sending money overseas. These are not things that a not-for-profit needs,” he said.
“$127 million more in revenues than expenses and they want more federal money? I think we can tackle it both on trafficking in fetal body parts, but also about the finances.”
The only other name in the ring for speaker of the House is Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), who unsuccessfully challenged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this year and received the support of 11 colleagues.
The full House vote will be at the end of this month.