WASHINGTON (AP) — A brash congressman who’s led high-profile investigations into the Secret Service, Planned Parenthood and other issues seems ready for his most attention-grabbing move yet: an underdog challenge to ascend to House speaker.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz told Politico this weekend that he would launch a bid for the position.
The prohibitive favorite in the race is Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, now the top deputy to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is resigning at month’s end, worn down by conservatives’ pressure.
It’s a time of tumult for majority Republicans, and the elections may heighten the disarray among lawmakers looking for a new team to confront President Barack Obama — and perhaps rankle the GOP-run Senate, where Democrats have bottled up Republican priorities.
Divisions among House Republicans have widened in the week-plus since Boehner stunned Washington with word he was ending his congressional career. There’s not much time to restore order, given the major issues ahead, such as raising the federal borrowing limit to avoid a market-shattering default and paying the bills to keep the government running.
Republican aides with knowledge about the situation said Friday that Chaffetz, a 48-year-old from Utah who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, intended to take on McCarthy for the speaker’s job. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm Chaffetz’s plans ahead of an announcement.
A key question is whether hard-liners who drove out Boehner and view McCarthy with suspicion would side with Chaffetz. As committee chairman, Chaffetz has enforced leadership initiatives such as punishing lawmakers who buck the party position.
Boehner has endorsed McCarthy, but some conservatives question whether McCarthy’s leadership would be any different.
Their concerns grew when, a day after announcing his candidacy for speaker, McCarthy boasted that the House committee examining the deadly attacks against Americans at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, when Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state, can take credit her slipping poll numbers in the presidential race.
McCarthy backtracked after two days, but not before the gaffe allowed Democrats to claim that the committee was a political witch hunt, as opposed to a fact-finding mission, as Republicans long have asserted.
Chaffetz was one of the loudest critics of McCarthy’s comments on Benghazi, calling on McCarthy to apologize for “a total mischaracterization” of the committee’s work.
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This post has been updated.