WASHINGTON — As House Republicans gathered Thursday to vote to replace John Boehner as speaker, frontrunner California Rep. Kevin McCarthy surprised Republican lawmakers by abruptly announcing he is dropping out of the race. The vote is now being postponed.
Republican members had looks of shock on their faces as they exited the meeting.
“Kevin McCarthy said, ‘I am not the one,'” Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp told The Daily Caller as he left the closed-door afternoon meeting of the Republican conference. “It looks like he’s pulling out of the race. He said, ‘I’m not the one, the one that can unite the conference, get to 218.'”
McCarthy’s withdrawal means others will likely be encouraged to throw their hats into the ring.
“Kevin McCarthy is best person to lead the House, and so I’m disappointed in this decision,” Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan said. “Now it is important that we, as a conference, take time to deliberate and seek new candidates for the speakership.”
McCarthy, the current majority leader, was believed to likely win the party’s nomination in Thursday’s closed-door vote, but his fate was less certain heading into the Oct. 29 speaker election of the full House of Representatives as the GOP conference’s nominee. A group of conservatives had signaled they might vote for someone other than McCarthy in order to prevent him from winning the necessary 218 votes to actually become speaker.
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Florida Rep. Daniel Webster were also running.
Asked by TheDC off the House floor Thursday if he still plans to mount his campaign for speaker, Chaffetz said: “Of course.”
After his announcement, McCarthy released a statement explaining his decision. “Over the last week it has become clear to me that our conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader,” he said. “I have always put this conference ahead of myself. Therefore I am withdrawing my candidacy for speaker of the House.”
Boehner said in a statement that he will set a new election and he’s “confident we will elect a new speaker in the coming weeks.”
“As I have said previously, I will serve as speaker until the House votes to elect a new speaker,” he said.
Chaffetz, the chairman of the House oversight committee, entered the race over the weekend, arguing McCarthy isn’t capable of winning the public floor vote later this month.
Webster, the former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, has the backing of the House Freedom Caucus.
That caucus released a statement saying they were “surprised by today’s news and respect Kevin’s decision to place the conference ahead of himself.” The statement didn’t mention whether they still support Webster for speaker.
There are 247 members of the House Republican Conference. A candidate will likely need 218 votes to be elected speaker during the public floor vote. There are believed to be 30 to 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus, meaning if the group as a whole refused to support McCarthy, they could have stopped him from winning.
These conservatives are opposed to McCarthy because he has been part of the Boehner leadership team they have repeatedly clashed with over the years.
In the day’s leading up to Thursday’s vote, McCarthy pledged to be different, telling members in an email pitch: “We can’t ignore the differences that exist, but we can and must heal the divisions in our conference with work, time, and trust.”
Chaffetz ran by arguing Republicans need to elect someone who isn’t part of the Boehner team.
“If we don’t inject new blood into the leadership team, our constituents are going to be irate at best,” Chaffetz said. “There’s a massive drumbeat out there that the status quo is not what we sent you there to perpetuate.”
Webster ran as low-key alternative who would reform the leadership process.
“I’ve been here before,” Webster said. “When I became Speaker of the House in Florida, we transformed the legislative process into one that was based on principle, not on power, so every member had the opportunity to participate.”