Fresh twists roil House GOP races

Fresh twists roil House GOP races

House GOP leadership races took new twists and turns on Monday, just days before rank-and-file Republicans head behind closed doors to pick the next Speaker.

ADVERTISEMENT
Outgoing Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner on Trump tweets: He gets 'into a pissing match with a skunk' every day Boehner predicts GOP will 'never' repeal, replace ObamaCare Sudan sanctions spur intense lobbying MORE (R-Ohio) postponed elections for majority leader and whip at the behest of conservatives who argued that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) might lose the Speaker’s race and end up keeping his current job.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzGuess who’s stumping for states' rights? GOP Rep. Gowdy slams Trump team for 'amnesia' on Russia meetings California Dem sworn in as House member after delay MORE (R-Utah) held court with reporters for nearly an hour, capping a three-day media blitz to promote his underdog bid for Speaker.

McCarthy is still the favorite to succeed BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner on Trump tweets: He gets 'into a pissing match with a skunk' every day Boehner predicts GOP will 'never' repeal, replace ObamaCare Sudan sanctions spur intense lobbying MORE, but Chaffetz’s entry has shaken up the once-sleepy contest, raising the potential for a protracted and messy floor fight for the House’s top job.

Speaking to reporters, Chaffetz conceded that the affable McCarthy, his “close friend and ally,” has more than enough GOP votes to be nominated for Speaker during closed-door balloting on Thursday.

But Chaffetz said the powerful California Republican is short of the 218 votes he needs in a formal floor vote. In part, that’s because many House Republicans see a vote for McCarthy, the current No. 2 leader, as a vote for Boehner. And that is a position they don’t want to have to defend back home, Chaffetz argued.

If McCarthy can’t close the deal, Chaffetz said, he’ll be waiting in the wings, pitching himself as a candidate who can bridge the divide between centrists who back McCarthy and conservatives who are distrustful of him.

McCarthy’s “math problem is on the floor. Clearly, members are recognizing that their constituents don’t want to perpetuate the status quo, that simply giving existing leadership a promotion is not going to work well,” Chaffetz told reporters.

“Nobody has disagreed that the current majority leader is short of 218. It’s just the reality,” the Oversight Committee chairman said.

McCarthy allies don’t appear to be worried. They say the majority leader will easily lock up the 124 votes he needs to be nominated for Speaker. And they believe all but a handful of Republicans will rally behind him on the House floor vote, which Boehner set for Oct. 29.

But McCarthy’s statement during a Fox News interview last week linking the Benghazi Committee to Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSessions says he doesn't regret recusing himself from Russia probe Judiciary Committee Republicans want a second special counsel: report Fusion GPS: White House trying to smear us on Russia MORE’s poll numbers unnerved some Republicans, and Chaffetz sought to demonstrate Monday how much better a communicator he is than his GOP rival.

Chaffetz sat at the center of the room with two dozen reporters fanned out around him in a semi-circle. A frequent cable news guest who’s cozy with the Capitol press corps, Chaffetz appeared at home.

“We need a Speaker who speaks,” he said, a not-so-subtle jab at McCarthy’s gaffe.

McCarthy loyalists have dismissed Chaffetz’s bid as a publicity stunt. They don’t think he has the “political capital” to win a leadership spot, suggesting instead that he’s raising his profile ahead of a possible gubernatorial bid in Utah.  

“I think Jason Chaffetz saw a press opportunity, a press opening, and jumped on it. He has certainly never been one to shy away from the press,” said one source close to McCarthy.

“If Jason Chaffetz is going to challenge McCarthy on the floor, then he is not doing it for the good of the conference or the American people,” the source added. “He is just an opportunist taking advantage of chaos.”

But Chaffetz insisted his play for the Speaker’s gavel isn’t about ego or publicity.

“I got plenty of ego, and I also get plenty of publicity. I don’t need any more,” he said.

Asked if he was worried about possible retribution if he loses to McCarthy, Chaffetz pointed out that he was recently targeted by a Secret Service leak showing he had been rejected by the agency more than a decade ago.

“You can fire at me all day long. I just got a colonoscopy from the Secret Service,” said Chaffetz, whose panel oversees the agency. “The worst they could come up with is that I wanted to be one of them.”

But the last conversation between Chaffetz and McCarthy wasn’t pleasant. After a fundraiser in New York on Friday morning, Chaffetz approached McCarthy and told him he was challenging him for Speaker.

McCarthy “wasn’t too happy,” Chaffetz said. But he declined to go into details, calling it a “private conversation.”

Chaffetz wasn’t able to connect with many members over the weekend, but he said he has flipped some unnamed McCarthy backers to his side. And as he spoke, his Apple Watch kept buzzing as members returned his phone calls.

One conservative lawmaker who had been open to a McCarthy Speakership said he could support Chaffetz.

“Chaffetz definitely has legs,” the conservative lawmaker told The Hill.

GOP leaders are hoping to avoid an ugly intraparty battle on the House floor, which would complicate the next Speaker’s ability to raise the nation’s debt limit in early November and avert a government shutdown in December.

But some political watchers said Boehner’s decision to postpone down-ballot elections until after the floor vote for Speaker raised more doubts about McCarthy’s ability to seal the deal. If McCarthy can’t win on the floor, he would remain in the majority leader post through 2016, eliminating the need for mid-session elections for the No. 2 and No. 3 jobs.

And Republicans say they would continue voting on the floor until a simple majority of the House agrees on a new Speaker. In the Speaker’s election in 1856, lawmakers cast 133 ballots over a two-month period before finally settling on Massachusetts Rep. Nathaniel Banks.

Democrats are gleeful at the prospect of GOP infighting over the Speaker’s race. 

“This focus on political posturing instead of progress is going to harm all House Republicans in the end,” said Meredith Kelley, spokeswoman for House Democrats’ campaign arm.