Kansas U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp acknowledged on Thursday that “there have been rumors circulating for a long time” that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been having an extramarital affair, something many observers believe is behind the California Republican’s bombshell decision to drop out of the running for speaker of the House.
During an interview with Newsmax’s Steve Malzberg, Huelskamp was asked about a cryptic letter that North Carolina U.S. Rep. Walter Jones sent to fellow Republicans earlier this week urging those running for leadership to drop out if they have skeletons in their closet.
Huelskamp said he was unaware of any specific allegations against McCarthy, who is married, but that he’s heard scuttlebutt for a while.
“I am not personally aware of any of those, there have been rumors circulating for a long time,” Huelskamp said.
McCarthy was considered the heavy favorite to win election to the speaker position, which is being vacated by John Boehner.
But in a shocking move just hours before the leadership vote was to be held, McCarthy announced to the Republican conference that he would drop out of the race. That prompted Boehner to postpone the vote indefinitely.
Besides the letter from Jones, other Republicans have pressed McCarthy on the affair rumors.
The Hill reported that the former Republican whip was pressed on the matter during a meeting with a group of Texas Republicans on Tuesday. And The Huffington Post reported that McCarthy received emails from a mysterious conservative activist named Steve Baer in the hours before his decision to drop out. Baer’s emails reportedly cited articles claiming that McCarthy has been having an affair with North Carolina U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers since 2011.
In his interview with Malzberg, Huelskamp, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, which is backing Florida U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster for speaker, said that the rumors he heard floating around Capitol Hill were vague.
“As I understand that, I think Mr. Jones’ statement, he wasn’t aware of anything but he was aware of rumors,” Huelskamp told Malzberg.
Ellmers has denied allegations that she has had an affair with McCarthy. When asked during a press conference on Thursday if the Jones letter had contributed to his decision to drop out, McCarthy told a reporter “no, come on.”
Saying that he will remain as House Majority Leader, McCarthy said that he believes that the speaker needs to be “a fresh face.”
He also said that remarks he made last week about the House Select Committee on Benghazi didn’t help his cause.
In an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity, McCarthy had said that the committee’s work had caused Hillary Clinton to slip in presidential polls.
Democrats seized on the comments as evidence that the special committee was created for political purposes, and not to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.