McCarthy stuns GOP, abandons speaker bid

Politics | Republicans will nominate another candidate for House leadership role at future date
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 10/08/15, 03:45 pm

WASHINGTON—House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California stunned members of his party today when he withdrew his name from speaker consideration moments before the Republican Conference was set to nominate John Boehner’s replacement.

The midday meeting, which many thought would last for hours, ended just minutes after it started. McCarthy needed only a simple majority—at least 124 of the 147 House Republicans—to earn the speaker nomination, but he would need 218 to win election during a House floor vote originally scheduled for Oct. 29. It became apparent he didn’t have 218 supporters late Wednesday, when a group of about 40 House conservatives said they would vote as a bloc for long-shot challenger Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla.

A shocked Webster emerged about an hour after the conference meeting ended and told me he felt “a little wrung out. It’s like you build up to the grand crescendo and then it falls apart. … It’s pretty rough.”

Webster said he was standing at the back of the room when McCarthy stood to give his brief remarks, which drew a standing ovation from the conference. Webster said he was 99 percent sure he was going to lose and had no idea why McCarthy withdrew.

Boehner immediately asked for unanimous consent to postpone the election indefinitely and then adjourned the meeting. He later said he plans to remain speaker until Republicans nominate his replacement, but he did not immediately set a date.

Last month, Boehner announced he planned to retire from Congress at the end of October and suggested McCarthy, the party’s No. 2, as his replacement. Although the conservatives who pushed out Boehner viewed McCarthy skeptically, Webster was his only challenger until McCarthy made controversial comments about Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and the House Select Committee on Benghazi last week.

Even some moderates in the party said McCarthy’s gaffe was part of a larger pattern and began to oppose him. On Sunday, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, entered the race, but his campaign has not appeared to gain traction.

Webster, meanwhile, continued to pick up supporters with his message of decentralizing power. On Thursday, he said he would continue in the same direction: “I think my message is selling. Every candidate came around to saying we want to have a bottom up approach. … Let the membership flourish—that’s the key.”

Chaffetz and Webster both said their campaigns would continue.

McCarthy’s critics and supporters both praised his decision as the right thing to do. I asked three members of the House Freedom Caucus if they thought the announcement was a win for them, and each one said it was best for the country.

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a Freedom Caucus member, told me the conference is moving in a good direction to ensure process reforms take place before a new speaker is elected: “This is good news if it forces us to get those reforms on paper ahead of time.”

Some members were visibly upset after McCarthy’s withdrawal. Most of the 10 members who spoke with WORLD said it was appropriate to postpone the election.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said he suspects McCarthy may regroup and run again after the 2016 election, but he would support a caretaker speaker in the interim—an idea that seemed to be gaining popularity.

“The so-called Freedom Caucus has got to figure out if they want to govern or they want to be obstructionists,” Kinzinger said. “We’ll see.”

No member of the Freedom Caucus has indicated an intent to run. In a meeting with reporters on Wednesday, several caucus members said they don’t want a far right speaker as much as they want someone who will follow House rules—which is why Webster’s message resonated. 

“Right now we don’t use our rules—we circumvent them every day, and that’s the problem,” said Webster, who still doesn’t consider himself the favorite. “No matter who [is] elected, we have moved the debate forward.”

This story updates a breaking news report posted at 2:25 p.m. EDT.

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD Radio’s managing editor. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012 and eventually becoming WORLD’s Washington Bureau chief. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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