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Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCongress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent Fox News Audio expands stable of podcasts by adding five new shows The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE's bid to become the next Speaker of the House will highlight his Tea Party roots and anti-establishment credentials.
The Utah Republican's late entry into the race to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has changed the dynamic of the contest. Before Chaffetz jumped in, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse GOP campaign arm ties vulnerable Democrats to Biden in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Fifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (R-Calif.) was the heavy favorite against longshot candidate Rep. Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterLaura Loomer says she's tested positive for COVID-19 How Donald Rumsfeld helped save the presidency Gun deaths surge in Iowa ahead of loosened handgun restrictions MORE (R-Fla).
Now it's a three-way battle, and Chaffetz — the chairman of the House Oversight panel — is considered a much more formidable challenger than Webster.
McCarthy remains the favorite and has been rounding up support over the last week. But Chaffetz backers sense that House Republicans are yearning for a fresh face who isn't a senior member of the leadership team.
Chaffetz's pitch to his colleagues will note that he had to defeat the GOP establishment to get to Congress in 2008 — by trouncing then-Rep. Chris Cannon, a six-term incumbent who was backed by then-President George W. Bush.
In the 2012 cycle, Chaffetz considered a run against Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), but subsequently opted to stay in the House. In an interview a few years ago with The Hill, Chaffetz said, "I don't owe [the establishment] anything."
Last year, he had to overcome a close Boehner ally, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), to win the Oversight gavel.
“I don’t lack for guts to take on tough issues,” Chaffetz, a former kicker for the Brigham Young University football team, told The Hill at the time. “My inner place kicker is not afraid to jump in the middle of a firestorm and make the difference.”
The 48-year-old lawmaker is expected to tout his Tea Party credentials and make the case that the House GOP Conference needs a shakeup at the top. Chaffetz will stress that House Republicans must wage a much tougher communications battle with the White House and pursue new strategies instead of recycling old ones.
Chaffetz this week criticized McCarthy for linking the work of the House Select Committee on Benghazi to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s falling poll numbers. Democrats, including Clinton, pounced on the statements as proof the panel was set up for purely political reasons.
McCarthy’s comments undercut GOP arguments that the panel was not set up for political reasons — and has led some to question whether he is ready for the House’s top job. That misstep has presented Chaffetz with an opportunity.
“I’m very supportive of Kevin McCarthy, but those statements are just absolutely inappropriate. They should be withdrawn; McCarthy should apologize. I think it was absolutely wrong,” Chaffetz said before his Speaker ambitions became public.
McCarthy, 50, sought to clarify his comments during an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, but it's unclear whether the damage control worked.
House Republicans will hold their leadership elections behind closed doors Thursday. Later in the month, the full House will publicly elect a new Speaker. Hoping to appear united, Republicans will likely call on the Conference to unanimously elect their Speaker in the public vote.
But House GOP sources say Tea Party lawmakers won't heed that call and will vote how they want to vote.
"Even if Kevin is elected Speaker [behind closed doors], he can't get 218 [votes] on the floor," a House Republican source said.
A Speaker cannot be elected until he or she wins a majority of the votes in the House. If the GOP is fractured on the Speaker vote, there would be multiple votes on the floor. Such a scenario would be chaotic and could help an insurgent candidate get elected.
McCarthy, who was elected in 2006, has expressed confidence he will get the votes to become Speaker and has vowed to change the culture of Washington. He is well-liked by his colleagues and helped recruit the GOP class of 2010, which snatched the majority back from the Democrats.
Chaffetz attracted criticism earlier this year when he stripped Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Graham told Trump he 'f'd up' his presidency: book Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE (R-N.C.) of his subcommittee chairmanship. Meadows was punished because he broke with GOP leaders on a key procedural vote. But after an outcry from conservative members, Meadows' chairmanship was reinstated.
Meadows later introduced a measure that called for Boehner to be ousted as Speaker.
The Meadows incident infuriated the right this summer. Conservatives including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Laura Ingraham lashed out at Chaffetz. Talk radio host Mark Levin labeled him “a sanctimonious fraud" on Twitter.
However, the Utah Republican has spent years cultivating relationships with GOP members on his Oversight panel, the majority of whom belong to the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.
In fact, when he grabbed the Oversight gavel in January, Chaffetz retained Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as a subcommittee chairman. Those relationships with conservatives will come in handy in the Speaker’s race.
Comprised of more than 40 members, Jordan’s Freedom Caucus has enormous influence if it decides to vote as as a bloc. Those votes alone could deny McCarthy from reaching the magic number of 218 on the House floor.
“There’s a good working relationship between Chaffetz and conservatives,” said one conservative senior House GOP aide.
Meadows, a member of the Freedom Caucus, has not decided who he will support for Speaker. In a statement to The Hill, Meadows said: "I am only aware of two people who have officially declared their willingness to run for Speaker. Certainly Chairman Chaffetz is a very capable individual and someone whom I have enjoyed working with on a variety of issues."
McCarthy and Chaffetz split on the continuing resolution that averted a government shutdown this week. McCarthy backed it, while Chaffetz was among the 151 Republicans who voted no.