Utah Congressman Chaffetz Jumps Into Republican Speaker Race

  • Vows to `tackle the tough issues' as demanded by voters
  • Majority leader still seen as favorite, despite missteps

Representative Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday he’ll challenge the current majority leader when the House of Representatives holds leadership elections to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner.

Chaffetz, a four-time Congressman from Utah, made the announcement in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

“We were entrusted by the American people with the largest majority the Republicans have ever had since Babe Ruth was swinging the baseball bat,” the 48-year-old Chaffetz said. “But they didn’t send us here to perpetuate the status quo. They want us to tackle the tough issues.”

House conservatives who hoped to shake up their party leadership by pushing out Boehner are seeing those efforts boosted by the shaky week for the lawmaker seen to be next-in-line, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. His first days as presumed next-speaker were marred by a statement that the committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks has eroded support for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential race.

“Kevin McCarthy is a good man and he’s a big part of why we have such a solid majority, but things have changed and there’s a math problem,” Chaffetz said on Fox. “There are nearly 50 people and a growing number that will not and cannot vote for Kevin McCarthy as the speaker on the floor. He’s going to fall short of the 218 votes on the floor of House.”

While McCarthy remains the more likely choice for a majority of the 247-member conference in closed-door voting set for Oct. 8, the House Tea Party Caucus announced Friday it invited Chaffetz to appear with McCarthy and a third long-shot speaker candidate on Tuesday at a conservative forum to lay out their “candidacies and vision” for the House.

The disgruntlement among Republicans is leading Boehner to consider a delay in elections for the majority leader and majority whip jobs, the No. 2 and No. 3 posts, Politico reported on Sunday. A Boehner spokesman said votes for all the leadership positions are still scheduled for Oct. 8.

Tea Party

Chaffetz’s position at the head of the oversight panel has put him at the center of high-profile Republican initiatives, including the grilling this week of Planned Parenthood leader Cecile Richards. Recently, he’s also been at the center of a controversy after the Secret Service improperly leaked information about him.

Even before inviting Chaffetz to address the group, Tea Party Caucus chairman Tim Huelskamp of Kansas told reporters his faction was eyeing another candidate and was working to convince that lawmaker to seek the speakership.

Tuesday’s forum will include members of other conservative House caucuses, the House Freedom Caucus and the Conservative Opportunity Society, which together comprise about 80 House Republicans.

“When 60 percent of all Republican voters believe that Beltway Republicans have
betrayed them, this is a historic time to change the current direction of Congress,” Huelskamp said in a statement Oct. 1. “Unlike the last three Speaker elections, this time we should vet each candidate thoroughly.”

“We must ensure that whoever is the next Speaker will work with conservatives,
not against us,” Huelskamp said.

Jordan, Hensarling

Huelskamp has not been alone in predicting others could emerge to challenge McCarthy, whether Chaffetz or someone else.

“I’ve got a feeling another candidate will be jumping into the race,” said Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, who until the announcement from Chaffetz was the only declared challenger to McCarthy.

Webster, who got only 12 votes in January when he made a long-shot bid against Boehner for speaker, said he anticipated another hopeful would emerge in the leadership race.

“As people go home to the weekend, there’s probably going to be some self-examination by some people,” Representative Steve King of Iowa, another conservative, said on Oct. 1.

Two other leading conservatives who already have said they were not running -- Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas -- have not changed their minds, say aides. Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, and Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, have said they aren’t running, either.

As for his leadership prospects, McCarthy said he was “very close” to securing the votes needed to be Boehner’s successor and “we’re going to win this race.” He acknowledged, though, the Benghazi remarks had been “a setback,” because he did not want to harm the committee’s work.

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