Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

House Speakership Race Thrown Into Chaos After McCarthy Drops Out

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This morning, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy thought he had the votes he needed to win the Republican Party's nomination for speaker of the House. And then, by the middle of the day, Republican House members came out of a closed-door meeting with this news. McCarthy was pulling out of the race. Here's what the California Republican had to say to reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: I don't want making voting for speaker a tough one. I don't want to go to the floor and win with 220 votes. I think the best thing for our party right now is that you have 247 votes on the floor. If we are going to be strong, we've got to be a hundred percent united.

MCEVERS: NPR's Susan Davis was there this afternoon, and she joins me now from the Capitol. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So what was it like right after McCarthy made this announcement?

DAVIS: You know, lawmakers were walking out of this room completely stunned when House Speaker John Boehner announced two weeks ago that he was not going to - he was going to resign at the end of the month. They thought they were stunned then. This has only doubled that effect. They've come out, and they were saying that they didn't expect it. The started the session. They got together. They said the prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance. And McCarthy immediately got up and said, I'm not the one for you and announced that he was taking himself out of the race. And they immediately adjourned. And that's where we're at.

MCEVERS: McCarthy was the frontrunner, but he did have two challengers for House speaker - Jason Chaffetz of Utah Daniel Webster of Florida. Are they staying in the race, and if so, do they have a chance?

DAVIS: I spoke to both of them immediately after the conference. They both said that they intend to keep running for speaker. But it's in flux. It's unlikely that it's going to remain just the two of them. There is some effort to get Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who was the 2012 vice presidential nominee, into the race. Although Ryan has taken himself out of contention at least three times, saying, I do not want to be speaker.

There is efforts for other members to get what they call a caretaker speaker - maybe someone that would only do it until the end of the Congress and agree not to run in the next Congress. So they really don't know where they're at. Republicans will huddle again privately tomorrow morning and try and figure out their next steps.

MCEVERS: I mean, Congress still has a pretty significant to-do list. I mean, there's a highway bill to settle - I mean, not to mention the issue of funding the government. Can they get any of that done with this situation?

DAVIS: So I talked to Hal Rogers. He is the chairman of the committee that writes these funding bills, the bills that they have to get the deal on. I said, look; how does this change the calculus? And he said, you know, in order to negotiate, we need leaders, and we don't know who our party leaders are right now; so I'm not sure how we can negotiate. So this shakeup has further thrown into flux when and how they reach a budget deal and whether they can do it in time.

MCEVERS: And do you see all this disarray in Congress figuring into the presidential race at all?

DAVIS: One thing to remember is when Republicans took full control of Congress in January, Mitch McConnell, who's the Senate majority leader, said, what do you think the priority Republicans should be? And he said, we need to prove we are a center-right governing majority so the American people know they can trust us with the White House.

And what we're seeing today, to put it mildly, is a party very divided and in total disarray. And I think that is, in some extent, undermining the goal that Republican leaders set out at the start of the year.

MCEVERS: What do you think will be the immediate next steps in the House?

DAVIS: You know, that's a great question. John Boehner has said that he will not leave until a new speaker is elected. He intended to leave by October 30. Clearly now that leaves the door open for him to stay longer. There is not a date certain that he had to leave, although he certainly had his eyes at the exit.

MCEVERS: Right.

DAVIS: And so, you know, I think, partly - there's reports that he's also talking to Paul Ryan. He's trying to find a consensus speaker. John Boehner has said he does not want to leave this place in disarray. He wants to sort of clean the decks and put the next speaker in good shape to lead the conference. It's just not clear who that person is going to be.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Susan Davis. Sue, thanks so much.

DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.