Kevin McCarthy leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday.

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

Kevin McCarthy Suddenly Drops His Bid for Speaker of the House

The House majority leader’s decision has stunned the House, and shaken up the race.

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.