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Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suddenly withdrew from the contest for speaker of the U.S. House on Thursday, shocking colleagues just before they were to vote and producing even more chaos for a divided Congress.  McCarthy declared “We need a new face,” after a closed-door meeting where House Republicans were prepared to nominate him as speaker but instead listened in disbelief as he took himself out of the running.

McCarthy explained “If we are going to be strong, we’ve got to be 100 percent united.”  Even though he would’ve certainly emerged the winner from Thursday’s secret-ballot election of Republicans, McCarthy had concluded he did not have a path to getting the needed 218-vote majority in the full House later this month.

A small but yet determined group of conservatives had announced they were opposing him, and they commanded enough votes to block him on the floor.These same lawmakers, pushed outgoing Speaker John Boehner to announce his resignation just two weeks ago by threatening a floor vote on his speakership.

The man most widely seen as a potential speaker in McCarthy’s place immediately ruled it out.  Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice presidential nominee who now chairs the Ways and Means Committee said “While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate.”

McCarthy might have been able to squeeze out a win, but he said that’s not how he wanted to become speaker. It’s now unknown when the House GOP election will occur, and whether a scheduled Oct. 29 floor vote by both Democrats and Republicans will go continue.

Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida, McCarthy’s two announced GOP rivals for speaker lack widespread support in the House GOP.  Numerous other names began to surface of possible candidates, and lawmakers were openly discussing the possibility of elevating a “caretaker” speaker to serve for a short time.

McCarthy, a 50-year-old from Bakersfield, California, in his fifth term in the House, is personable and friendly as well as popular with fellow lawmakers.  However his candidacy for speaker had gotten off to a rough start when he suggested the House’s Benghazi committee was set up to drive down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers rather than search for the truth about the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans.

McCarthy was roundly criticized and even though he backtracked, the damage had already been done.  McCarthy brushed off a suggestion that his decision to leave 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 “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.”

When asked whether it played a role in his decision McCarthy said: “Nah.”

 

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