WASHINGTON – House Republicans said they were committed to bringing the party together Thursday, even as their caucus splintered in its search for a new speaker.
Republicans are looking for a replacement for House Speaker John Boehner, who announced suddenly two weeks ago that he would be stepping down from the job and leaving Congress at the end of this month.
But a scheduled vote Thursday was indefinitely put on hold when the front-runner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, announced just as suddenly that he was withdrawing from the race. His announcement came moments before a caucus vote.
“I did not see that coming,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and one of two Republicans, along with Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, who had announced they would challenge McCarthy for the speakership.
McCarthy, of California, reportedly told colleagues in a meeting Thursday morning that he was not the right person for the job. He later told reporters that he withdrew from the race because the party is clearly divided.
“I think the best thing for our party right now is that you have 247 votes on the floor. If we are going to be strong, we’ve got to be 100 percent united,” McCarthy said.
His decision to pull out of the race in the interest of party unity was hailed by some in the caucus.
“Let me just tell you that no one has a higher respect for and affection for Kevin McCarthy than I do,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale. “I think he just did something that was selfless.
“I don’t know whether it will ultimately turn out to be the best for the country or not, but I’m convinced, with all of my heart, that that’s exactly how he intended it,” Franks said.
Published reports said McCarthy probably had enough votes in the caucus to be nominated, but that a group of dissatisfied Republicans who threatened to vote against him was large enough that they could have denied him a majority when the full House votes. That raised the specter of McCarthy needing to ask for Democratic votes to win the speaker’s gavel.
Boehner – whose retirement was forced by the same group of dissident party members, according to published reports – had said that he would step down at the end of October. After McCarthy’s announcement Thursday, however, he canceled the vote and said he would remain as speaker until his replacement is chosen. No date had been set for that vote as of Thursday evening.
One Arizona lawmaker welcomed the shift in direction.
“This is the people’s house. The power isn’t the speaker. The power is the 435 that the speaker works for,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott. “Solutions aren’t coming from one person – one man, one woman. It’s coming through collective bargaining that’s in that chamber – all 435.”
Gosar said that when the dust settles, he is convinced that Webster will be the next speaker.
“I’ve been with Dan Webster from day one,” Gosar said Thursday. “I was in January. I was today.”
But Franks would not say who he plans to vote for – and he would not predict who the next speaker will be.
“There are three kinds of people that predict anything in politics – those who don’t know, those who don’t know they don’t know, and those who know they don’t know,” Franks said later in the day. “And I’m in that final category and that served me well this morning.”