With internal Republican elections set for October 8, the big focus this week in the U.S. House will be the future leader of the party, as different factions of the GOP struggle to unite behind one candidate.
“We got a block of votes who are saying, we need changes,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), echoing the feelings of many more conservative members, who worry that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy may just be John Boehner 2.0.
“There’s a lot of hesitation right now among more conservative members of Congress about moving everybody up one notch in leadership,” said Rep. Tom Massie (R-KY), who wanted Boehner out.
But for many veteran Republicans and those who favor the GOP establishment, the logical choice is to simply elevate McCarthy to the job of Speaker.
“We believe that Kevin McCarthy is the right person to lead our conference and the House, and we endorse his candidacy for Speaker of the House,” eleven Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania said in a letter supporting McCarthy.
Instead of McCarthy, some more conservative Republicans have thrown their support behind Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), who is not a conservative firebrand, but has pledged to run the House in a more open and inclusive manner.
“My whole message is that I want to have a principle based, member driven Congress,” Webster told me. “That’s it.”
Webster is considered a long shot, as there was no hint in the hallways of the Capitol last week that his candidacy had caught fire.
That may have been one reason for the late entry of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who publicly blasted McCarthy last week over his comments about the GOP investigation of the Benghazi attacks and Hillary Clinton.
“Kevin McCarthy is a good man, he’s a big reason why we have such a solid majority, but things have changed,” Chaffetz said on Fox News Sunday as he officially announced his bid for Speaker.
While Chaffetz accurately noted the unsettled feelings among Republicans about McCarthy, the Utah Republican has fought with some of the same conservative rebels he now is courting.
Earlier this year, Chaffetz used his committee chairmanship to punish one GOP lawmaker for trying to knock out Speaker Boehner.
But amid a growing outcry, Chaffetz backed down and reinstated Rep. Mark Meadows to a subcommittee chairmanship a few days later.
There is still the chance others could get in the race; elections are set for Thursday at 12 noon in a private GOP meeting.
It’s still not clear if elections for other GOP leadership races will be held this week, or delayed until after a new Speaker is selected.
Also uncertain, whether internal GOP rules will be changed to force candidates for top leadership posts to resign their current position – whether in the leadership, or as chairman of a committee – in order to run for a higher position.