House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA has shocked the House of Representatives with his announcement, Thursday morning, Oct. 8, 2015 that he is dropping out of the race to become the next speaker of the House. This is the House’s second biggest shock since outgoing Speaker John Boehner, R-OH first announced he is resigning on Sept. 25. McCarthy dropped out when it had become clear he would not get the 218 votes needed. The fact that the House does not have a candidate to coalesce around might mean that Boehner might be forced to postpone his retirement and stay on as speaker.
McCarthy’s announcement comes the morning when the House was prepared to nominate the next speaker at noon, with the formal elections set to be held on Oct. 29. The announcement also comes a week after McCarthy made remarks on Fox News on Sept. 29 linking the House Select Committee on Benghazi with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s scandal surrounding her private email server and her falling poll numbers.
McCarthy faced a backlash for those comments from Democrats and Republicans, for his remarks, which said that the committee’s goal was to destroy Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton herself seized on the remarks and used it to reenergize her campaign, using her favorite lines about Republican conspiracies being out to get her. While the committee’s Democratic candidates have also been rebelling and unsuccessfully attempting to close down the committee.
The GOP House Freedom Caucus was also planning to vote against him and for Rep. Daniel Webster, R-FL instead. The group of 40 conservative Republicans announced Wednesday evening, Oct. 7 that would support Webster over McCarthy, further making McCarthy’s chances of winning slimmer. The caucus wanted to use their support as leverage to change the House procedure rules to give conservatives a greater voice, more power, while diminishing that of the speaker. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah also announced his candidacy for the speakership, but acknowledged he was a long shot for the post. Conservatives were no warmer to McCarthy than they were to Boehner, they saw the majority leader as ideologically the same as the outgoing speaker.
The majority leader shocked his fellow party members when during a closed-door morning meeting where he told them of his decision, declaring, “’I’m not the one, I’m not the one that can unite the conference and get to 218.” McCarthy supporters were shocked and in disbelief, some still believe McCarthy will change his mind. There were almost the same sense as shock as Boehner’s resignation at the end of September. McCarthy was considered the most logical successor and he already had Boehner’s blessing. McCarthy supporters hugged him after his announcement some said they witnessed tears.
After the meeting, McCarthy gave a prepared statement where he said, “I have the deepest respect and regard for each member of the conference and our team as a whole. It is imperative for us to unite and work together on the challenges facing our country. McCarthy also acknowledged the adverse affect his remarks on the Benghazi had on his chances to be elected speaker. The majority leader expressed, he wants to put his party first, “Over the last week it has become clear to me that our conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader. I have always put this conference ahead of myself. Therefore I am withdrawing my candidacy for speaker of the House. I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to help move our conference’s agenda and our country forward.”
Speaking after with press McCarthy seemed to joke, “I think I shocked some of you.” However, he said, “I feel good about the decision. I think we’re only going to be stronger.” McCarthy was unclear if he would garner the 218 voted need for the post, but he did not win a slim majority, “I don’t want to go to the floor and win with 220 votes. I think best think for our party is to win with 247 votes.”
The Republicans are now facing a problem where do they find a candidate for speaker they could all support. The only name that has comes up is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and former 2012 Vice Presidential nominee. Ryan does not want the job, and he has now shot down the possibility a second time, and in fact nominated McCarthy for the post.
Ryan issued a statement lamenting McCarthy’s choice, saying, “Kevin McCarthy is best person to lead the House, and so I’m disappointed in this decision. Now it is important that we, as a Conference, take time to deliberate and seek new candidates for the speakership.” Ryan however, made it clear he will not run for speaker, “While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate. I continue to believe I can best serve the country and this conference as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.”
There other two possible candidates, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House panel, a conservative favorite, who also refused to run for speaker and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has support from the moderates, but not that of conservatives. Another option is having a temporary choice as speaker who will only serve until the term ends in 2016.
The House faces a very busy fall schedule with deadlines important to the country’s economy and well-being. First, the debt ceiling needs to be raised by Nov. 5, when the Treasury Department will see funds depleted. If the debt ceiling is not raised the country faces defaulting on its loans, which could cause “economic chaos” as the New York Times points out including, soaring interest rates and plunging stock prices. Additionally, the stopgap-spending bill Congress passed on Sept. 30 will expire on Dec. 11, and if a budget is not passed the government will shutdown. President Barack Obama has made it clear he will not accept anymore continuing resolutions.
The lack of a candidate means, that Boehner might be forced to stay on longer than the Oct. 30 date, he said he would formally resign from the speakership and his House seat. Speaker Boehner was equally shocked that McCarthy dropped out of the race. In his statement when he resigned Boehner, said he stay and “will serve as Speaker until the House votes to elect a new Speaker,” his statement implicitly implied he would stay longer if required.
House rules require that a speaker be elected before the outgoing one can resign. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) agreed that Boehner might be required to stay on, “If you don’t put up 218, Boehner stays Speaker, because his resignation doesn’t take effect until there’s a new Speaker. They’ve checked with the parliamentarian about that. … We will not be without a Speaker.”
Just two days ago on Tuesday, Oct. 6, the speaker’s longtime friend, Rep. Cole recounted a story Boehner told his “Republican colleagues” where he predicted he would not be able to resign when he had planned calling it a “nightmare.” Boehner had said, “I had this terrible nightmare last night that I was trying to get out and I couldn’t get out. And a hand came reaching, pulling me.” The question though is it really a nightmare or a brilliant ploy by the speaker to stay on get the respect from House conservatives, without any more rebellions until the end of the session.