The race for the next Speaker of the House received an unexpected surprise Friday when it was reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will make a late play for the gavel.
Sources told Politico that the House Oversight and Government Reform chair is laying the groundwork for a bid against House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has been the odds-on favorite to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
The surprise bid is indicative of unrest among conservatives within House GOP ranks. Members on the far-right flank who contributed to Boehner’s resignation have grumbled about the declared candidates for leaderships positions.
Chaffetz himself has been a fly in the ointment for Republicans hoping for a smooth transition of power.
The Utah lawmaker was one of the major cheerleaders urging Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, to run for majority leader against current House Majority Whip Steve Scallise (R-LA). Gowdy passed, choosing to remain as head of the Benghazi panel.
Chaffetz may have concluded that he has an opening after McCarthy made a gaffe about the purpose of the Benghazi committee, implying that the investigation had a political motivation.
Democrats seized on the statement as proof that the panel was created solely to hamstring Clinton’s presidential bid, not investigate the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans.
Boehner and other Republicans came to McCarthy’s defense and McCarthy has since walked back his comments, but Chaffetz and others piled on with criticism.
“I’m very supportive of Kevin McCarthy, but those statements are just absolutely inappropriate, they should be withdrawn, Mr. McCarthy should apologize. I just, I think it was absolutely wrong,” he told MSNBC on Thursday.
The House GOP conference will meet on October 8 to elect its new leadership team, even though they won’t take control for weeks. No date has been set for a speaker election on the House floor. The process involves all 435 members and a candidate must garner a majority 218 votes to be declared the winner. It’s unclear how much support Chaffetz would receive.
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) is the only declared challenger against McCarthy.