Exclusive: House Republicans recruited Carson for Speaker

Greg Nash

House Republicans reached out to GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson in 2014 about replacing John BoehnerJohn BoehnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman Dems brace for immigration battle MORE as Speaker of the House, Carson told The Hill on Thursday.

“They were looking for an alternative, they were looking for someone strong and courageous who might really be able to add some spine and some backbone,” Carson said. “I was very flattered that there were several members that thought I’d fit the bill very well, but I think it played out correctly the way that it did.”

There is no rule stipulating that the Speaker be a member of the House.

A second source with knowledge of the situation said that in 2014 “several” House conservatives summoned Carson to Capitol Hill to pitch him on the idea of becoming the next Speaker in the event that they were successful in voting the Ohio Republican out of the position in 2015.

Carson met with the Republicans, but said he turned down their offer because he was gearing up for a presidential run.

In explaining to The Hill why he declined, Carson took a passing swipe at Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Trail 2016: An important lesson in geography Clinton takes aim at Rubio in Florida rally Dem Senate hopeful dodges leaked Clinton emails at debate MORE (R-Fla.), who has been criticized for missing votes in the upper chamber.

“It would have pretty much ruined my presidential bid,” Carson said. “It would have been very difficult to do my job as the Speaker of the House while running for president. You’ve seen how difficult a time Sen. Rubio is having fulfilling his senatorial obligations. The Speaker of the House has even more obligations."

Carson declined to identify the House Republicans who approached him, but Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonRep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman GOP lawmakers give Trump bad reviews on debate performance House GOP talks 'minibuses,' moves toward Senate in spending fight MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Hill on Thursday that he was one of a group of three who did so.

House conservatives made several attempts to overthrow BoehnerJohn BoehnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman Dems brace for immigration battle MORE before he retired from office in 2015, but all fell flat.

In January of 2015, the floor vote for Speaker netted 25 votes against Boehner, but House Republicans were unable to coalesce around a consensus replacement. The second place vote-getter, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), only received 12 votes.

Carson on Thursday said “the jury is still out” on new Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanPence calls for Republicans to 'come home' to elect Trump Intelligence director: Withholding classified briefings from Trump, Clinton ‘not an option’ Ladies, don’t give it up for Trump MORE (R-Wis.), but added he’s “very optimistic still” about the direction of the House under Ryan’s leadership.

— Scott Wong contributed. This story was updated at 5:57 p.m.