Stunned by the surprise withdrawal of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy from the race for Speaker, Republicans of all stripes grasped for any possible candidates to lead their embattled party, with no one person clearly in the front of the pack to replace Speaker John Boehner.
“I think this is a bit of a cleansing for us,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), acknowledging the demise of the top two Republicans in the House GOP leadership in recent weeks.
“I think the conference needs to figure out how to come together and move forward in a positive direction,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who said he was open to a run for Speaker.
“I assume there will be some discussion about who is best to fill the void,” Walden added, as Republicans will meet Friday morning in the Capitol to discuss their options.
Maybe the most popular choice was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who quickly said he would not run for Speaker, but was cornered by other Republicans on the floor of the House.
“For him to say that he doesn’t want to be Speaker is consistent with his message,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), noting Ryan’s desire to chair the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Outside of Ryan, there was simply no agreement among Republicans on who could win the backing of what’s become a series of GOP factions in the House.
“We need to get a leader in place and we need to move forward,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), who had planned to vote for McCarthy.
Some Republicans saw no need to change their allegiance, especially those who have been backing Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL).
“I think Dan Webster would be a great Speaker of the House,” said fellow Florida Rep. David Jolly, though he acknowledged the race will get more crowded.
“I don’t believe that two weeks from now it be only Webster and Jason Chaffetz,” Jolly said.
There was a lot of agreement on that front, as some Republicans said they thought as many as a dozen lawmakers might enter the race for Speaker.
“I would imagine before it’s closed out that there may be ten, maybe more,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), who told reporters that he was looking at making the race for Speaker.
“It’s going to take the right fit, and I don’t know if I’m the right fit or not,” Westmoreland admitted.
While I spoke to Westmoreland just off the floor of the House, his cell phone rang. He turned it around and showed the few reporters around him who was calling – it was Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Whip who had just gotten out of the race for Speaker.
Westmoreland didn’t answer, and slipped the phone back in his pocket. A minute later, the phone rang again.
“You want to take that call from Kevin McCarthy?” I asked.
Westmoreland pulled the phone out and showed us the screen again. It was McCarthy calling a second time. Westmoreland grinned.
McCarthy may have been out of the race for Speaker, but the maneuvering was still underway.