Republicans uniformly said they were shocked by Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s decision Thursday to end his bid for House speaker, while Democrats said it shows that Congressional Republicans are in disarray and controlled by their most conservative members.
“I think I shocked some of you, huh?” McCarthy told reporters after he announced his decision in a closed-door meeting with House Republicans.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said McCarthy “had the vast majority of the conferences’ confidence and votes” but that “[McCarthy] felt he could not get to 218,” the number of votes needed to elect a speaker.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that all members of the delegation, of the conference, were shocked,” Issa said.
Republicans on the campaign trail were equally taken by surprise of the news. During a stop in Iowa, Jeb Bush said he was “surprised” by the decision and gave a nod of confidence to GOP Rep. Daniel Webster, who is from Bush’s home state of Florida and is a candidate for speaker.
Donald Trump was among the first to react to the news, tweeting: “Great, Kevin McCarthy drops out of SPEAKER race. We need a really smart and really tough person to take over this very important job!”
In an interview on CNN, Ben Carson gave McCarthy “kudos” for “putting others before himself.”
Congressional Democrats said it shows that their colleagues on the other side of the aisle are in chaos.
McCarthy’s surprise move comes ahead of two contentious congressional battles that will take place before the end of the year – raising the nation’s debt limit and preventing a government shutdown.
“Republican chaos is likely to get worse before it gets better but the economic livelihood of the American people should not be threatened as a result of Republicans’ inability to govern,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi simply said it is “up to House Republicans to choose the next Speaker,” seeming to throw cold water on the idea that the parties could compromise on finding a speaker that would be chosen with votes from both parties.
Hillary Clinton, however, took a lighter tone by re-upping her video featuring a different Kevin McCarthy from Iowa.
– NBC’s Jordan Frasier and Elissa Nunez contributed to this report.