Rep. Jason Chaffetz launched his bid for House Speaker Sunday, casting himself as a more articulate and unifying alternative for the post than House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
"Today, here, I am announcing my intention to run for speaker of House of Representatives," McCarthy said on "Fox News Sunday."
Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that McCarthy, R-Calif., can’t get a majority of 218 votes on the full House floor to succeed House Speaker John Boehner, who’s retiring from Congress Oct. 30.
The process to replace Boehner begins Thursday when 247-member House Republican caucus will go behind closed doors Thursday to vote for its nominee for speaker. The full House is expected to vote later this month. Three Republicans – Chaffetz, McCarthy, and Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., are seeking the speaker’s gavel.
Chaffetz acknowledged that McCarthy has the most support among House Republicans but added that "there are nearly 50 people, and a growing number, that will not and cannot vote for Kevin McCarthy as the speaker on the floor."
"I just don’t believe the nominee, if it’s Kevin McCarthy, can actually get to 218," he said. "That’s why I’m offering myself as a candidate, to try to bridge that divide. I think those 50-plus people find that I’m a fair, even-balanced person. I can bridge that divide between our more centrist members and some of the more far right-wing members."
Chaffetz suggested that McCarthy’s candidacy may suffer within the Republican ranks because he’s perceived as being too closely aligned with Boehner.
Several hardline conservative House Republicans on and off Capitol Hill have accused Boehner of being too accommodating to Democrats and unwilling to stand up against President Barack Obama.
"I am not there to promote the status quo," Chaffetz said. "I am not here to do what (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell or the president wants to do. That’s not what we were elected to do."
Chaffetz’s entry in the speaker’s race represents an about-face for the four-term Utah lawmaker. Last week, in a CNN interview, he said he supported McCarthy as speaker.
But he also chastised McCarthy in the same interview for making comments that seemed to suggest that the House committee formed to investigate the deadly 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was created to politically weaken 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She was secretary of state at the time of the attack.
"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" McCarthy, the favorite to succeed the retiring Boehner when House Republicans hold leadership elections next week, told Fox News. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen."
Chaffetz, in Wednesday’s CNN interview, called McCarthy’s comments an "absolute inappropriate statement" and said that he should apologize.
McCarthy, appearing on Fox News’ "Special Report with Bret Bair" Thursday, sought to clarify his remarks.
"I did not intend to imply in any way that that work was political," he said. "The point I was trying to make, and I want to be very clear about this, I wasn’t saying the committee was political, that committee is solely to get the truth out."
Chaffetz suggested Sunday that he’d be a more articulate speaker than McCarthy.
"You want a speaker who speaks," he said. "We need somebody who’s out there who is actually going out there and making the case to the American people, talking to the Senate about what we need to do, and going on the national television shows and winning that argument. We don’t seem to win the argument. And that’s a problem."