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Dick Cheney endorses Kevin McCarthy for House speaker

Cheney’s backing comes as the House Republicans prepare to take the first step on Thursday to choose a new leader.

Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House speaker received a small boost on Wednesday night from former Vice President Dick Cheney, who endorsed the California congressman for the high-profile position.

Cheney called McCarthy a “good man and a strong leader” in a statement first reported by POLITICO. “As a man of the House and a former member of the House leadership. I know that Kevin McCarthy is the person we need as speaker in these dangerous and important times," he added.

RELATED: McCarthy continues damage control over Benghazi remark

Cheney’s backing comes as House Republicans prepare to vote for a new leader following John Boehner’s surprise announcement that he is resigning as speaker at the end of the month. Later on Thursday, Republicans in the lower chamber of Congress will take the first step, voting by secret ballot to select a nominee. However, a full public vote — which will be the final word — will take place on Oct. 29.

McCarthy, who is Boehner’s deputy, was seen as a natural pick to take over. But he’s come under fire recently for suggesting that the investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack was political in nature, even bragging that the probe led to declining poll numbers for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

The lawmaker has since walked back those remarks, but that hasn’t stopped the Clinton campaign from seizing on McCarthy’s comments and releasing a television ad this week to discredit the investigation.

McCarthy, who is still considered the odds-on-favorite, will face competition for the speakership from Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the Oversight and Government reform committee and led last week’s  heated hearing on Planned Parenthood. He will also face off with Florida Rep. Daniel Webster, who is being backed by the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 hard-line conservatives. His GOP critics contend that McCarthy represents existing establishment leadership while Americans want change. 

While sealing Thursday's nomination will only take 125 out of 247 votes, the big question is if the winner can garner the necessary 218 votes later this month to secure the speakership. If not, the voting would be repeated until enough votes are reached and Boehner would remain speaker in the interim.