House Freedom Caucus rejects McCarthy, endorses Webster for speaker

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., listens to other GOP leaders during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., listens to other GOP leaders during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. AP

The hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus Wednesday night rejected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker of the House of Representatives by endorsing a dark horse candidate ahead of Thursday’s GOP vote to nominate John Boehner’s successor.

The caucus threw its support to Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., who’s perceived to have little chance of winning the majority of the 247-member House Republican conference when they vote behind closed doors Thursday afternoon. Still, the Freedom Caucus’ action further complicates what’s already been a challenging path to the speaker’s gavel for McCarthy.

It has enough members, about 40, to potentially prevent McCarthy, R-Calif., from winning a majority on the full floor of the House when Democrats and Republicans cast votes for speaker on Oct. 29. McCarthy is pitted against Webster and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to replace Boehner, who announced last month that he’s leaving Congress Oct. 30.

In a statement, Freedom Caucus members indicated that they endorsed Webster because they see little difference between McCarthy and Boehner. The group views the retiring speaker as too accommodating to Democrats and unwilling to stand up to President Barack Obama.

“It is clear that our constituents will simply not accept a continuation of the status quo, and that the viability of the Republican Party depends on whether we start listening to our voters and fighting to keep our promises,” the caucus said in a statement Wednesday. “We accordingly believe that, under the present circumstances and without significant changes to conference leadership and process, Rep. Daniel Webster would be best equipped to earn back the trust of the American People as Speaker of the House. We will therefore vote for Rep. Webster in the Republican Conference election tomorrow.”

The days leading to Thursday’s GOP vote has been difficult for McCarthy. Democrats, and several Republicans, have blasted him for comments he made in a Fox News interview that suggested that the House Benghazi Committee was created to wound Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign instead of probing the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the Benghazi committee chairman, said in an MSNBC interview Wednesday that “Kevin screwed up.” McCarthy’s remarks persuaded Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to enter the race. Chaffetz’s line that the House needs a “speaker who speaks” sounded like a campaign slogan.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are taking their shots at McCarthy. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, unsuccessfully tried to push through a resolution to disband the Benghazi Committee, saying McCarthy’s comments proved that the panel was a about 2016 presidential politics . Republicans quashed the effort on a party-line 240-183 vote.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

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