John Boehner blessed his top lieutenant, Representative Kevin McCarthy, to become the next speaker of the US House of Representatives, setting up a potentially contentious race for control of the chamber’s Republican majority.
Boehner’s surprise decision to leave Congress at the end of October highlights the rift between the Republicans’ traditional, business-friendly wing -- which McCarthy would embody -- and an ascendant, anti-government Tea Party faction.
Boehner, speaker since 2011, has repeatedly faced rebellions from conservatives in his caucus, and at times relied on Democrats to help pass important measures, such as raising the US debt limit. This week, a conservative revolt threatened to shut the government down starting Oct. 1.
As House majority leader, McCarthy has the advantage of incumbency. He hadn’t publicly announced as of Friday night whether he will seek the speakership, and declined to say as he brushed past reporters in the Capitol earlier.
Republicans will hold their internal leadership elections Oct. 1 to avoid drawing out the process of electing a successor to Boehner, said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith, though, said a decision hadn’t been made.
Another House Republican, Daniel Webster of Florida, announced he’s running. Webster got 12 votes when he opposed Boehner for the position in January. He said in a statement he wants the House to be “based on principle, not power. Every member of Congress deserves a seat at the table to be involved in the process.”
Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas is another possible contender. He “is considering his options” and will make a decision by early next week, said spokeswoman Sarah Rozier in an e-mail.
Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, also of Texas, plans to run for majority whip, the leadership position responsible for rounding up votes on key legislation, the Washington Post reported. The office of Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia wouldn’t comment on his plans.
Were McCarthy of California to be elected speaker, it would open up his spot as majority leader, meaning that one way or another, conservatives will have a chance to bolster their share of the leadership.
“Kevin McCarthy would be an excellent speaker,” Boehner told reporters as he announced his plan to resign. Boehner said he had intended to quit in November, but decided to leave sooner because “this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to this institution.”
Republican Representatives Peter King of New York and Steve Womack of Arkansas described McCarthy a front-runner to become speaker.
Hensarling met privately with other Texas Republicans Friday. “I don’t know if he will take the bait,” Representative Pete Olson said afterward.
Hensarling led the opposition to renewing the US Export- Import Bank, whose charter expired June 30, eliminating a source of credit for US companies seeking export sales. Last week, he said the Federal Reserve was doing “more harm than good” with artificially low interest rates and creating asset bubbles throughout the economy.
Former US Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, a mentor to Hensarling, said in an interview he would urge the lawmaker to seriously consider running for a leadership spot.
“We would have someone who is pro-free-enterprise, not pro- free-business,” said Gramm. “Jeb is never going to be for something simply because the Chamber of Commerce is for it.”
McCarthy also opposes renewing the Ex-Im Bank. Still, Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie, a party dissident who supports Webster for speaker, sought to paint McCarthy as too similar to Boehner.
Webster’s “pitch is we’re going to reform the institution,” Massie said. “McCarthy’s pitch, I think, is he’s going to wield the same power as Boehner but maybe be more benevolent.”
Webster declined in an interview to say whether he’ll run, adding, “Today is John Boehner’s day.”
Longshot choices for speaker may include Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who ranks fourth in the Republican leadership, and Peter Roskam of Illinois, who lost election earlier this year for Republican whip, the third-ranking position.
McMorris Rodgers, who delivered the Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union speech, is also a potential candidate for the No. 2 majority leader’s spot that would be vacated by a rise by McCarthy to speaker -- as is current majority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Dennis Ross of Florida plans to run for Scalise’s position if Scalise runs for majority leader, said Ross’s spokeswoman Joni Shockey.
Ryan Not Interested
Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, said he won’t seek the job. “I don’t want it,” he said.
The leadership race comes as Congress faces a late October deadline to renew highway funding and a November deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The Republican shakeup raises the prospect that conservatives will have more leverage to use the debt-ceiling fight to demand spending cuts and other changes.
Boehner, meanwhile, is now free to ignore the demands of conservatives in his party who have threatened to shut down the government after Sept. 30 rather than continue federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the women’s reproductive health service. He will be able to schedule a quick vote on a temporary funding bill that the Senate is expected to pass next week. With Democratic support, that legislation will postpone the threat of a shutdown beyond Oct. 1.
The risk of a shutdown will rise again before Dec. 11, when the new funding would expire.
Boehner’s announcement laid bare a raw division between congressional Republicans who want to more forcefully fight Obama, even at the risk of shutting down the government, and those who are more conciliatory.
Obama said he learned of Boehner’s resignation as he was leaving from his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that the news took him by surprise. He called Boehner “a good man” who, though a member of the opposing party, has “always conducted himself with courtesy and civility with me.”
Obama said he hopes the next speaker will realize that “we can have significant differences on issues but that doesn’t mean you shut down the government.”
Massie criticized Boehner’s leadership, accusing him of forcing members to vote his way.
“The American people can see what is happening up here,” said Massie, who was among a group of Republicans who said in January they would oppose Boehner’s election as speaker. “It is a farce.”
King said Boehner’s resignation “is a victory for the crazies.”
“I understand why he did it, but I don’t agree,” King said.
Boehner, 65, is serving his 13th term in the House. In a sign of the depth of conservative frustration with his leadership, the audience at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington burst into applause and a lengthy standing ovation when Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is running for president, announced on stage that the speaker was resigning.