In a stunning turn of events, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced Thursday that he would not seek election for the position of Speaker of the House.
“I think I shocked some of ya, huh?” McCarthy told reporters only five hours after he had announced his intention to run. McCarthy intends to remain House Majority Leader.
McCarthy had been the presumed successor to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who is set to resign his seat on Oct. 30.
“We need a new face,” McCarthy said at his press conference. “I feel good about the decision. I think we’re only going to be stronger.”
The Republican conference, he said, needed “to be 100-percent united” behind its eventual nominee.
The startling development has exposed deep fissures within the Republican conference and seriously calls into question the party’s ability to unite behind a nominee.
McCarthy has been dogged by pundits and colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his gaffe last week, when he boasted on national television that the Benghazi select committee had been formed specifically to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. Those remarks, McCarthy conceded in his press conference, “weren’t helpful.”
In his remarks to Republican congressmen, McCarthy said he didn’t want to divide the American people or divide the Congress, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) told MSNBC.
“I’m not the one,” McCarthy told the GOP conference, to stunned silence, according to reports.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, which had consistently challenged Boehner during his tenure, described McCarthy’s move as “selfless” and said he was moved by his “statesmanship,” in an interview with CNN.
The Freedom Caucus endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) for Speaker yesterday.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told MSNBC that McCarthy clearly could have won a majority of the Republican conference, but was not able to get the 218 votes needed in the House. That may be due to the Freedom Caucus, who in the past have launched renegade coup attempts to deny Boehner the majority vote on the House floor.
Dent speculated that it may be necessary to form a bipartisan coalition — sidestepping the highly conservative element in his party — in order to elect the next Speaker. “At this point anything is possible,” he said.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KA) described McCarthy’s abdication as a “victory for the American people.”
“I think the establishment lost again today,” he told MSNBC. “They essentially lost two Speakers in two weeks.”
The House GOP’s internal election to select their nominee for Speaker had been scheduled for today. Boehner announced that it has been postponed, but has not yet given a new date.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who is seeking the nomination for Speaker, said that the Republican conference is “going to have to do a lot of soul searching” and have a “family discussion” in order to unite the party.
This story has been updated.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at the John Hay Initiative in Washington September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron