The primary ballot elections for Republican House speaker were set for noon today, but voting did not take place after majority leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow congressmen he was not the man for the job.
Representative McCarthy, current Speaker John Boehner’s number two, and the heavily favored candidate to win the Republican nomination, withdrew his candidacy moments before the scheduled election, leaving Boehner to announce a postponement.
Representative Tom Rooney of Florida told National Public Radio (NPR) that members were left in "total shock" and some were audibly crying.
In a news conference following his announcement, McCarthy told Republican members of the House, “I have the deepest respect and regard for each Member of the Conference and our team as a whole. It is imperative for us to unite and work together on the challenges facing our country. Over the last week it has become clear to me that our Conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader.”
“For us to unite, we probably need a fresh face,” he continued. The New York Times suggests McCarthy may have been “undone” much like Mr. Boehner.
It appears that part of McCarthy’s decision rested on his inability to win over the Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 hardline conservatives; the same group that threatened a floor vote on Boehner’s speakership and ultimately drove him to resign.
On Wednesday night, the Freedom Caucus announced they would back Daniel Webster, former speaker of the Florida House, perhaps pushing Webster one step closer to the nomination, but also adding to uncertainty around the GOP’s ability to come to consensus.
"Power doesn't like to give up its power, and so that's why many of us have gotten behind Representative Webster," Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a Freedom Caucus member, said outside Thursday's meeting. "We feel that conservatives have been greatly marginalized by the current leadership."
“I’m looking for a change in the culture and the way things are run,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, also a member of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters last week. “The anger and the frustration in our membership runs a lot deeper than you folks realize.”
This opposition alone, however, would probably not have been enough to overrun McCarthy’s nomination entirely.
Though two other representatives – Webster of Florida, and Jason Chaffetz of Utah – have announced bids for the position, CNN has denounced Webster as a “long-shot” and no one seems to be taking Chaffetz too seriously.
“The House Republican Conference, which has lurched from one legislative disaster to another, is now in a serious crisis,” Politico reported. “McCarthy was one of the only lawmakers in the chamber who was seen as able to garner the 218 requisite votes to become speaker.”
For this reason, elections were postponed in order to allow House Republicans a chance to either find a new candidate or to collectively decide to rally around either Webster or Mr. Chaffetz, a decision that must be made prior to the full House vote for speaker in open session on October 29.
“In order to break the stalemate, there may need to be a consensus candidate who could appeal to both conservatives and mainstream Republicans — a difficult task given the fractious caucus,” says NPR.
Some members say Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin could be the solution, but Mr. Ryan publicly maintained today that he will not be running for the nomination.
“Now it is important that we, as a Conference, take time to deliberate and seek new candidates for the speakership,” Ryan told The New York Times.
Representative David Jolly of Florida maintained it will take a “hard family conversation” for the party to unify around a candidate.
But Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania says a coalition with Democrats may even be necessary. Republicans are divided and "anyone with eyes can see it," Mr. Dent told NPR, adding that Boehner "might be here a while."
Though it hasn’t happened in years, it is possible the election will require multiple ballots if no candidate wins the majority, which would further push the House into disarray. But Boehner has announced that he will remain speaker until another candidate is successfully elected, even if that means extending his previously announced October 30 resignation date.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.