Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah has thrown a curveball into the race for House speaker, officially announcing on Sunday that he’ll take on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the high-profile position.
Chaffetz, who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, painted himself as an outsider and argued on “Fox News Sunday” that he can better “bridge the divide” between moderate and far-right GOPers.
“You don't just give an automatic promotion to the existing leadership team. That doesn't signal change,” Chaffetz, a tea party favorite, said in reference to McCarthy.
Sitting House Speaker John Boehner recently announced that he’ll resign at the end of the month. McCarthy, his deputy, was seen as a natural pick to take over. But he’s come under fire in recent days for suggesting the investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack was political in nature, even bragging that Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers were taking a hit because of it.
After the gaffe, Chaffetz told MSNBC last week that McCarthy was “absolutely wrong” and that the California lawmaker should apologize.
On Sunday, Chaffetz acknowledged McCarthy likely has enough support from House GOPers during a preliminary vote next Thursday that takes place behind closed doors. But he argued his competitor would fall short of the necessary 218 votes during a House vote later in the month.
Chaffetz would also have several hurdles to overcome. It’s not clear he would have enough votes to win either. He’s gained some traction among conservatives for several probes, including the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups and the Benghazi attacks, and most recently heading a hearing with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
But the heated Planned Parenthood hearing, in particular, resulted in some criticism with some arguing he focused too much on the organization’s finances and not about recent, controversial, secretly recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of fetal tissue for research.
Chaffetz insisted he does have the support of many in his caucus. “I’m being recruited,” he said. “… I didn’t wake up last week and say, ‘I’m going to be House speaker.' "