McCarthy Withdraws from Speaker Race, Path Forward Uncertain

McCarthy Withdraws from Speaker Race, Path Forward Uncertain

In a stunning development today, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) pulled out of the race to replace John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House.  McCarthy was the favorite to win, but ran into opposition from the far right wing of his party.  The House Republican Conference was supposed to choose its candidate for Speaker today, but that has been indefinitely postponed.  What will happen next is unclear.

McCarthy is currently the House Majority Leader, second only to Boehner in rank.  In announcing his withdrawal from the Speaker race, he said he would retain his current position.

Boehner and McCarthy both are conservatives, but not as conservative as the Tea Party.   McCarthy needed 200 votes from his Republican colleagues to move forward as the party’s candidate for Speaker and it appeared that he easily had that many.   But he did not have the magic number of 218 — the votes needed to secure the Speakership when the full House votes.   Tea Party Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus threw their collective strength behind another candidate, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), making it very difficult to get 218 supporters.

In a brief press conference after he announced his decision, McCarthy said the Republican party needs to be unified and the new Speaker needs not just the 218 votes to win the election in the House, but all 247 Republican votes.  “To unite, we probably need a fresh face,” he said, a nod to critics in the far right wing of the party who claimed he would continue Boehner’s legacy.  Those critics contend that Boehner does not fight hard enough for Tea Party causes like repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or defunding Planned Parenthood and believe that government shutdowns are a valid and useful political tool.  Repeated clashes with those critics, including over the recent Continuing Resolution (CR) that is funding the government through December 11, are credited as leading Boehner to abruptly announce his resignation last month, though Boehner insists that he was planning to step down anyway on his birthday in November.

In a statement today, Boehner said he would not leave until a new Speaker is in place.  He had been planning to leave on October 30.  The leadership election will take place “at a later date, and I’m confident we will elect a new Speaker in the coming weeks,” he said.

While McCarthy is generally well-liked by his colleagues, recent comments got him into trouble.   For example, during a television interview he used the House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi, Libya incident as an example of effective Republican leadership that caused Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers to drop.   The comments severely undercut Republican contentions that the committee is not politically motivated.  Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, died in the attack on an American diplomatic compound in that city.  During his press conference today, McCarthy agreed that he could have phrased his comments better and the only reason the committee exists is to “find the truth” for the families of the victims:  “I should not be a distraction from that.”

What all this means for conducting the nation’s business is not comforting.  Congress must pass a Highway Trust Fund reauthorization by October 29, raise the debt limit by November 5, and pass another bill to keep the government operating after December 11.   Boehner, President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also recently pledged to work together on a high-level budget deal that hopefully would avoid any chance of a government shutdown between now and the 2016 elections.  All three oppose using government shutdowns as political tools.  Today’s developments make the outcome of all of those issues even more murky.

Commercial space advocates were looking forward to the possibility of a McCarthy Speakership since he represents the district in California where Edwards Air Force Base and the Mojave Air & Space Port are located.  He is the chief sponsor of H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, which passed the House in May.

Webster and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) are the only other two announced candidates for Speaker at the moment, but everything clearly is in flux right now.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.