House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) surprising decision to abandon his bid to become the next Speaker shows how Republicans are hurt by “extreme ideology” within their own party, the White House said on Thursday.
“The challenge facing the next Speaker of the House … is the same challenge John Boehner faced: to unite a divided Republican caucus,” Earnest told reporters.
President Obama believes the next Speaker will need to “tame the forces” of the “extreme ideologues” within the GOP and compromise with Democrats to pass important legislation, Earnest added.
McCarthy announced he would drop out of the Speaker’s race on Thursday amid doubts he could reach the 218 votes he needed to be elected on the House floor later this month.
The House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives, endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) late Wednesday. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) also challenged McCarthy.
Earnest said Obama was surprised by the news of McCarthy's withdrawal, joking the White House did not receive a “heads up” that he was dropping out of the race.
The California Republican’s decision complicates a number of big-ticket items on the legislative agenda. Congress faces deadlines to renew highway funding at the end of this month, raise the debt limit by Nov. 5 and agree on a government funding measure by Dec. 11.
“There will not be a path to addressing these significant challenges if Republicans choose to confront them in a way that satisfies the extreme ideologues in their party,” Earnest said.
When asked what the chase in the House means for the GOP, Earnest made a crack about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s last-minute endorsement of McCarthy for Speaker.
“I think it certainly means that Dick Cheney’s endorsement doesn’t mean as much as it used to," he said.
— This story was updated at 2:40 p.m.