McCarthy abruptly withdraws candidacy for House speaker

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — With no warning, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew Thursday from the contest for speaker of the U.S. House, shocking fellow Republicans just before voting was to begin and plunging Congress into chaos.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah answers questions from reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, as he reacts to news that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will not run as a nominee for House Speaker replacing John Boehner. In a stunning move, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew his candidacy for House speaker Thursday, throwing Congress' Republican leadership into chaos. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, answers questions from reporters on Capitol Hill as he reacts to news that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will not run as a nominee for House Speaker to replace John Boehner, Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, 2015 | AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin, St. George News

Lawmakers said they were thunderstruck and in disbelief following McCarthy’s announcement, which came moments after they had shown up for an election nearly certain to end with McCarthy as their pick. A mere two weeks ago outgoing Speaker John Boehner announced his plans to resign under conservative pressure, also without warning and stunning to all.

Boehner, who planned to leave Oct. 30, said in a statement that he would stay on “until the House votes to elect a new speaker.”

McCarthy said, “Over the last week it has become clear to me that our conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader. I have always put this conference ahead of myself. Therefore I am withdrawing my candidacy for speaker of the House.”

Speaking to reporters, McCarthy said: “For us to unite, we probably need a fresh face.” He said he didn’t want to win by eking out victory because the House needs a speaker with strong GOP support. McCarthy was being opposed by a small but determined bloc of hardline conservatives.

McCarthy said he would stay on as majority leader. The speaker’s election was postponed, as may be the scheduled Oct. 29 vote for speaker by the full House, Democrats as well as Republicans.

What happens next is unknown. McCarthy was by far the heavy favorite to replace Boehner. Congress is facing major budget deadlines and fiscal decisions.

At the White House, presidential spokesman Josh Earnest said it would be easy for Democrats to poke fun at the Republicans’ troubles if not for the serious issues Congress faces. He said the next speaker will have to tame a small but vocal group of lawmakers with a strong ideological bent or find a way to “buck up” more mainstream House Republicans.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif. walks out of nomination vote meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, after dropping out of the race to replace House Speaker John Boehner, who is stepping down and retiring from Congress at the end of the month. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, walks out of a nomination vote meeting on Capitol Hill after dropping out of the race to replace House Speaker John Boehner, who is stepping down and retiring from Congress at the end of the month. Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, 2015 | AP photo by Evan Vucci, St. George News

The lawmaker most widely seen as a potential speaker in McCarthy’s place immediately ruled it out.

“Kevin McCarthy is the best person to lead the House, and so I’m disappointed in this decision,” said Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice presidential nominee who now chairs the Ways and Means Committee. “While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate.

One leadership ally, Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, said McCarthy “didn’t see a path to 218” — the number of votes needed to prevail on the House floor. McCarthy faced opposition from a bloc of 30-plus hardline conservative lawmakers who didn’t command the numbers to block him in Thursday’s secret-ballot elections, but might have prevented him from winning a floor vote later on.

There was talk among some lawmakers of elevating a “caretaker” speaker who could serve with consensus support at least for the short term.

Rank-and-file lawmakers seemed unsure how to react or what to say as they milled around the lobby of the Longworth Office Building where they had gathered to eat barbecue and then — they thought — vote for a new speaker. Instead the meeting was adjourned moments after it began with McCarthy making his jaw-dropping announcement as his wife and kids looked on.

“Disbelief, from the surprise announcement by Boehner to the quick nature of this election to it now being postponed — it’s uncertainty on top of uncertainty,” said freshman Rep. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania. “I’ve been here nine months, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’d bet you most other members who have been here 20 or 30 years would say the same thing.”

“He was making his plea this morning for speaker and this afternoon he’s out of the race. What happened in those four hours, I don’t know,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah and his wife Julie walk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, prior to a vote to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the front-runner in the race to become the next speaker, but he faces two Republican opponents who are trying to draw some of his support. Chaffetz and three-term Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida both say they can bring a needed fresh perspective to GOP leadership, unlike McCarthy, who has served as majority leader under Boehner. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and his wife, Julie, walk on Capitol Hill prior to a vote to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was the front-runner in the race to become the next speaker but faced two Republican opponents who were trying to draw some of his support, Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, 2015 | AP photo by Andrew Harnik, St. George News

Several Republicans were crying after McCarthy’s announcement, lawmakers at the meeting said.

The other two announced Republican candidates for speaker — Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida — lack widespread support in the House GOP, although Webster has the backing of the hardline House Freedom Caucus.

Thursday’s secret ballot — even if it had proceeded as expected — still would have been merely an early skirmish in the chaotic battle to lead the House. It was to have been followed by the vote in the full House where the Freedom Caucus could have blocked McCarthy’s ascent.

McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker had gotten off to a rough start with a gaffe when he suggested the House’s Benghazi committee was set up to drive down Hillary Rodham Clinton’s poll numbers, rather than search for the truth about the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans. He was roundly criticized and quickly backtracked, but the flub dogged him, giving an opening for Chaffetz to get into the race.

“That wasn’t helpful. I could have said it much better,” McCarthy told reporters.

But he brushed off a suggestion that his decision had anything to do with a letter circulated earlier this week by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., asserting that any candidate for leadership should withdraw from contention “if there are any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself, the Republican Conference and the House of Representatives if they become public.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, where Republicans were to nominate candidates to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner. In a stunning move, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew his candidacy for House speaker Thursday, throwing Congress' Republican leadership into chaos. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wisconsin, arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill where Republicans were to nominate candidates to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, 2015 | AP photo by Evan Vucci, St. George News

Jones has said the letter wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. Asked whether it played a role in his decision, McCarthy said: “Nah.”

But the episode evoked memories of the shocking announcement in December 1998, when Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., astonished Washington by suddenly dropping his bid to replace Newt Gingrich as speaker. Livingston was the heavy favorite, but had been dogged by allegations — promoted by Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt — that he had been unfaithful to his wife.

Livingston’s stunning announcement came as the House was debating President Clinton’s impeachment with its roots in Clinton’s own infidelities.

With Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, too radioactive as the architect of Clinton’s impeachment, Republicans turned to Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who was DeLay’s chief deputy. Hastert proved to be a stabilizing force and served as speaker for eight years until Republicans lost their House majority in 2006. Hastert himself is now under indictment for financial improprieties related to alleged past misconduct.

Story by ERICA WERNER, AP Congressional Correspondent

Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Mary Clare Jalonick and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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14 Comments

  • munchie October 8, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    So the Benghazi committee that was set up to bring down Hillary, brings down a top Republican instead. How ironic. At least we got something for the millions of dollars it has cost us. Now these Tea Party Clowns are all set to crash the economy to show how fiscally conservative they are. Then, of course, they’ll blame Obama.

  • BIG GUY October 9, 2015 at 5:24 am

    So the Benghazi committee was set up to expose why Obama and Hilary arrested the American producer of an obscure video for causing a “spontaneous” street demonstration that resulted in the deaths of four Americans including our ambassador to Libya when they knew this wasn’t true. They clearly did this less than eight weeks before the 2012 presidential election for political cover even though they knew the video had nothing to do with the al Qaeda-planned attack. They wanted to deflect criticism of their disastrous foreign policies. (Name one country with whom we have better relations today than we did in 2008: Hilary couldn’t when asked.)
    .
    Just as the Watergate investigation unexpectedly discovered Nixon’s White House telephone recordings that led to his downfall, the Benghazi investigation unexpectedly led to Hilary’s private email server and dozens of classified emails, unknown when the investigation started. Republicans are thrilled about this unexpected fallout, exposing the fact that everything Hilary said about her emails last April was a lie. But that isn’t why the Benghazi investigation was started just as Nixon’s tapes weren’t why Watergate started.
    .
    Rep. McCarthy didn’t say that damaging Hilary was why the investigation was started, he said that was the result. But the political damage to his career and to Republicans is done.

    • fun bag October 9, 2015 at 9:29 am

      it’s amazing how deluded you are. i’m still waiting for you to explain how it was “all the liberal’s fault” when Bush II collapsed the banking system and economy in ’08. These must be the same mental gymnastics you use to keep believing in mormonism, no?

    • fun bag October 9, 2015 at 9:40 am

      And BG, how does a handful of lives lost in Libya compare to the thousands of american soldiers lost in iraq and afganistand under Bush II’s failed wars that were founded on lies to begin with and resulted in destabilization of several countries? Should that not be investigated?

      • mesaman October 9, 2015 at 8:29 pm

        Don’t forget the thousands of lives lost in Viet Nam under your hero LB Johnson. Incidentally, I heard McCarthy stepped aside because he knew how much pleasure you would get ranting and railing in your best socialistic, whiney way.

        • fun bag October 9, 2015 at 8:59 pm

          well MM the fact is that Benghazi was a very minor event with minimal lives lost, yet how many hundreds of millions$$$ have been spent investigating it? politics at it’s worst

    • Chris October 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Name one country with whom we have better relations today than we did in 2008:
      Cuba

      While the foreign policy legacy of Obama is yet to be determined, it is obvious that the legacy of his predecessor was nothing short of disastrous. When W left office, we were hated by virtually the entire world for our arrogant and completely unjustified incursion into Iraq. Anyone who clings to the belief that the Bush-Cheney view of the world was realistic clearly was not paying attention. Whatever faults that can be attributed to the Obama foreign policy must be tempered by the fact that he assumed office at an absolute nadir of American prestige in the world. Are things better under Obama? Debatable. Are things worse under Obama? Not possible.

      • BIG GUY October 9, 2015 at 6:36 pm

        CHRIS, U.S. prestige was hardly at a nadir in 2008. Our prestige throughout the Middle East was considerably higher then than it is today. Here are countries with whom we were on far better terms then than now: Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. Each of them was pleased to have Sadaam ousted and the Iraqi government stabilized…until Obama pulled us out. All except Iraq are now very much displeased with Obama’s “deal at any price” with Iran and have publically broken with U.S. policy, something they had never done before. Saudi Arabia is busy developing nuclear weapons in response. Worse under Obama? By a mile. Even the New York Times thinks so.
        .
        I got a chuckle out or our better relations with Cuba. Let’s see if Hilary runs on that “success.” We could probably do as well with North Korea using the Obama “deal at any price” doctrine. Who’s next? Syria? The Taliban? Maybe ISIS? All three of them have been revitalized or created by Obama’s weak and uncertain foreign policy. Syria crossed Obama’s “red line” with no U.S. response. Assad cowered in his palace when Obama announced he had to go. Now Assad has called in the Russians and they have an entrée in the Middle East for the first time in their history, courtesy of Obama’s failed policies. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to leave. The Taliban can hardly wait for Obama’s announced withdrawal: great leadership there.
        .
        No Democrat will run in 2016 on their party’s foreign policy successes.

        • fun bag October 9, 2015 at 8:55 pm

          yea BG wanted a permanent US occupation of iraq… do u know how much it costs to keep a country occupied? why not just make it another US state and we could dump endlessly more billions into it $$$. BG you’re a true idiot and you make up your own “facts”. you should’ve become a politician… heck, maybe you are…

      • BIG GUY October 10, 2015 at 6:03 am

        CHRIS, how could I forget Obama’s “reset” with Russia? The one he whispered to Medvedev when he thought the mic was off and that would occur AFTER the election? That “reset” improved our relations with Russia…not. As a deluded show of good faith, Obama unilaterally cancelled our planned missile defense system to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic, exposing all of Eastern Europe to Iran’s missiles, soon to be armed with nuclear warheads. Add Poland, the Czech Republic and other eastern European countries to those with whom our credibility and relations have soured since 2008.
        .
        Putin, seeing how Obama’s threats against Syria were nothing but hot air for domestic consumption, did in fact “reset” relations with us. He invaded and annexed the Crimea, taking it from the Ukraine and his invasion of eastern Ukraine continues to this day. Add Ukraine to the countries where our relations have deteriorated.
        .
        The reliably liberal New York Times reported on Obama’s hypocrisy in announcing his plan to withdraw completely from what Obama had called the “good war” in Afghanistan. That announcement has emboldened the Taliban and forced to Afghani government to distance itself increasingly from the U.S. Add Afghanistan to the countries where our relationships have deteriorated.
        .
        All the above are easily verified facts. Got any more foreign policy successes beyond Cuba?

      • BIG GUY October 10, 2015 at 8:33 am

        CHRIS, you let your opposition to the Iraq war color your view of our international relations as of 2008. Your unwavering support of Obama has you seeing today’s international situation through rose colored glasses. One can certainly have opposed the Iraq war and still realistically see that Obama has deliberately and consciously withdrawn our country from the world stage with disastrous consequences, especially in the Middle East. Enter the Russians.

  • fun bag October 9, 2015 at 9:31 am

    pretty soon it’ll be “HILLARY IS GONNA TAKE THE GUNS! HIDE THE GUNS!” LOL

    • .... October 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      Captain Kangaroo is gonna take the guns.! hide the guns.! LOL.!

    • mesaman October 9, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      Oh, please! Don’t call Hildebeast on us. I beg you! not her and her migrating herd of nitwits. Why I’m shaking like a leaf (with laughter, you’re such a joker).

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