Kevin McCarthy Suddenly Drops His Bid for Speaker of the House

Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday. Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday. Evan Vucci/AP

This story has been updated.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy has pulled him­self out of the race to re­place John Boehner as Speak­er of the House, he told the GOP caucus Thursday. The House Re­pub­lic­ans an­nounced that the lead­er­ship elec­tion has been post­poned “un­til a later date.”

“I think I shocked some of you, huh?,” Mc­Carthy said in short press re­marks just be­fore 1 PM. Say­ing he feels good about his de­cision, Mc­Carthy sug­ges­ted that “To unite, we prob­ably need a fresh face.”

A re­port­er asked Mc­Carthy if his con­tro­ver­sial com­ments about the Benghazi se­lect com­mit­tee—in which he im­plied its ob­ject­ive has been to hurt Hil­lary Clin­ton in the pres­id­en­tial race—played in­to his de­cision. “Well, that wasn’t help­ful,” Mc­Carthy replied.

Rep. Kev­in Cos­tello, one of the first ten mem­bers to exit the room, said Mc­Carthy stood up in front of the room and said he is not the right per­son uni­fy the con­fer­ence and was with­draw­ing from the race. Boehner then said the elec­tion would be post­poned. 

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., came out of the meet­ing com­pletely stunned. King said that it was hard to hear what Mc­Carthy was say­ing. “We were all just thun­der­struck,” said Rep. John Flem­ing.

“I’m still try­ing to pro­cess what just happened,” said Rep. Lou Bar­letta, R-Penn.

Rep. Mark San­ford, R-S.C., came out of the meet­ing with a full plate of bar­be­cue and slaw and a lot of ques­tions. He said some mem­bers were cry­ing as Mc­Carthy made his an­nounce­ment. “There were a lot of emo­tions, be­cause it was so ex­traordin­ary and out of the or­din­ary.” 

Rep. Dar­rell Issa told re­port­ers shortly after the news broke that the Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence was shocked by the news. “Kev­in Mc­Carthy had the vast ma­jor­ity of the con­fer­ence’s con­fid­ence and votes,” Issa said. Ac­cord­ing to Issa, Mc­Carthy will re­main as House ma­jor­ity lead­er— “as far as we know”—and will be­come “the most im­port­ant en­dorse­ment for who­ever ul­ti­mately be­comes the speak­er.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy told re­port­ers that there are mem­bers who have the abil­ity to lead and unite the party, but “they are not will­ing to do it.”    When asked if he would take the job him­self if his col­leagues asked, he entered the el­ev­at­or, turned around and said “no.” 

One of those Re­pub­lic­ans who has pulled him­self out is House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an. After Mc­Carthy’s de­cision, Ry­an again stated that he has no in­terest in run­ning for the job. “Kev­in Mc­Carthy is best per­son to lead the House, and so I’m dis­ap­poin­ted in this de­cision,” he said in a state­ment. “Now it is im­port­ant that we, as a Con­fer­ence, take time to de­lib­er­ate and seek new can­did­ates for the speak­er­ship. While I am grate­ful for the en­cour­age­ment I’ve re­ceived, I will not be a can­did­ate. I con­tin­ue to be­lieve I can best serve the coun­try and this con­fer­ence as Chair­man of the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee.”

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., spec­u­lated to the cause for the sud­den de­cision, say­ing “it was pretty simple ac­tu­ally.”   “Kev­in had a strong ma­jor­ity of votes among the Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers to be­come the next speak­er. It’s pretty ob­vi­ous he didn’t have 218 votes…and had this gone to the floor, I think there was great con­cern that maybe he couldn’t get 218 votes and it would have been ob­vi­ously em­bar­rass­ing to not be elec­ted speak­er.”

“Be­fore John Boehner stepped down, I said if John Boehner steps down, the same people who were try­ing to take John Boehner down, will try to frag the next guy,” Dent said. “Well, that is just what happened.” 

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a Mc­Carthy sup­port­er, said he ap­proached the ma­jor­ity lead­er after his de­cision and said he would have taken heat for vot­ing for him. “That’s what I just told Mc­Carthy in there, you know, ‘I would’ve taken the ar­rows for you. I already have,’” he said. “He’s ob­vi­ously put the party ahead of him­self, I guess. I just don’t know where we go from here.”

There has been some im­me­di­ate sup­port for Mc­Carthy’s de­cision though among Re­pub­lic­ans. “This was ex­actly what John Boehner did. He put the in­terests of the party, of the Con­gress and the na­tion ahead of his own per­son­al in­terests. It was an hon­or­able thing that Kev­in did. I think he re­cog­nized that he had no path to get to 218 votes on the House floor and leav­ing here with the nom­in­a­tion based just on 51% and hav­ing 2 weeks to try un­suc­cess­fully to get to 218 on the House floor was something he didn’t want to put his party through. I think he made the right de­cision,” said Rep Dav­id Jolly.

Rep. Dana Rohra­bach­er, R-Cal­if., who had been crit­ic­al of Mc­Carthy last week, said Mc­Carthy was “cour­ageous” for step­ping out of the race. “This is a ter­rif­ic thing for the party. This opens the whole party.” 

The House Free­dom Caucus called an emer­gency meet­ing dir­ectly after the an­nounce­ment. Rep. Mick Mul­vaney, R-S.C., said he spoke with Mc­Carthy 20 minutes be­fore the elec­tion was to oc­cur, and Mc­Carthy was look­ing for HFC Chair­man Jim Jordan. But he said the group isn’t claim­ing an­oth­er scalp as they have with Boehner’s resig­na­tion.   “I don’t take it as a vic­tory,” he said. But when asked how we move for­ward he said there are a couple pos­sib­il­it­ies. “We could start talk­ing now about a care­taker. We could talk about someone in the cen­ter who could be ac­cept­able to both sides. We might talk about some­body who is an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ist, like Web­ster.”

Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, though, a vo­cal op­pon­ent of the cur­rent GOP lead­er­ship, de­clared a vic­tory of sorts on MS­N­BC. “This lead­er­ship has lost,” Huel­skamp said. “They have es­sen­tially lost two Speak­ers in two weeks.”

Lauren FoxDaniel Newhauser and Alex Brown contributed to this article.

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