WASHINGTON — In a stunning move, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has withdrawn his candidacy for House speaker.
GOP lawmakers said McCarthy told colleagues at the start of the conference Thursday that he was not the right person for the job. He recommended that the election be postponed, and Speaker John Boehner delayed it.
“As I have said previously, I will serve as speaker until the House votes to elect a new speaker,” Boehner told reporters.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan quickly diffused speculation that he might jump into the race for the role.
“Kevin McCarthy is the best person to lead the House, and so I’m disappointed in this decision,” Ryan said in a statement. “Now it is important that we, as a conference, take time to deliberate and seek new candidates for the speakership. While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate. I continue to believe I can best serve the country and this conference as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.”
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who launched his own bid for House speaker earlier this week, said he was shocked by McCarthy’s decision.
“I was absolutely stunned,” Chaffetz said. “Didn’t see that coming.”
Chaffetz said that he’s “still running” but added that he isn’t sure he’s the right person for the role.
Rep. Charlie Dent suggested “a bipartisan coalition” may be necessary to find the next House speaker.
“We have to assemble a bipartisan coalition, that’s the reality of this place,” Dent told CNN moments after McCarthy stepped aside. “The question now is: Who’s gonna step up and try to grab the brass ring?”
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration "did not get a heads-up” about McCarthy’s announcement.
On Capitol Hill, McCarthy spoke briefly to reporters, vowing he would “stay on as majority leader.”
We’re public servants. I have always put this Conference and Country ahead of myself. We need to unite behind one leader and get to work.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader)
Last week, McCarthy came under fire for suggesting the select committee investigating Benghazi was summoned to derail Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy said on Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers Friday? 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.”
Clinton condemned those comments.
“When I hear a statement like that — which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise — I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country,” Clinton said. “I really regret the way that they have treated this serious matter.”
“That wasn’t helpful,” McCarthy said Thursday when asked if his comments about the committee hurt his candidacy. “I just think it’s best to have a new face.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)