WASHINGTON (AP) — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the front-runner in the race to become the next speaker, but he faces two Republican opponents who are trying to draw some of his support.
Four-term Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and three-term Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida both say they can bring a needed fresh perspective to GOP leadership, unlike McCarthy, who has served as majority leader under Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Boehner is resigning at the end of the month and has endorsed McCarthy in Thursday’s race in the GOP caucus to pick a nominee. After the caucus picks its candidate, the full House will elect a speaker Oct. 29.
Chaffetz is the brash 48-year-old chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he has launched high-profile investigations of the Secret Service, Planned Parenthood and other issues.
He said he had not planned to run for speaker but was recruited by Republicans he wouldn’t name. He said his colleagues are looking for a fresh face who can bring the caucus together rather than a continuation of existing leadership.
“If we don’t inject new blood into the leadership team, our constituents are going to be irate at best,” Chaffetz said earlier this week. “There’s a massive drumbeat out there that the status quo is not what we sent you there to perpetuate. This is a national wave, it’s not something that was driven by Jason Chaffetz. I’m just someone who was smart enough to recognize it and try to get ahead of it.”
He won election to the House in 2008 by toppling incumbent Republican Chris Cannon in the party primary, despite Cannon’s endorsements from President George W. Bush and most of the state’s political establishment, and easily defeating the Democrat in the general election. Two years later, he was re-elected as the tea party movement helped the GOP regain the majority.
Chaffetz has never been shy about seeking leading roles in politics — he’s climbed the power ladder through a mix of media savvy and confrontations with some establishment favorites.
In his campaign against McCarthy, Chaffetz has loudly objected to the majority leader’s gaffe last week in which he suggested that the GOP-led probe into the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, had scored political points against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton, the Democrats’ front-runner, was secretary of state at the time of the attacks, which killed four Americans.
The Oversight panel’s congressional investigations have raised Chaffetz’s prominence but also drawn criticism. Conservatives questioned the panel’s focus on money in a recent hearing on Planned Parenthood, a GOP target after videos surfaced about the group’s procurement of fetal tissue for medical research.
After a job interview with some of the most conservative members of Congress on Tuesday, Chaffetz claimed he’d picked up some support.
“I would just fundamentally change the way we do business around here,” he said after the meeting.
Chaffetz has been married to his wife, Julie, since 1991 and has three children.
Rep. Daniel Webster is the least-known of the candidates, but he is also the only one who has previously run for the House speaker’s office and he has the backing of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
In January, he received 12 votes as part of a failed attempt by some conservatives to oust Boehner from the job at that time. There were 25 dissenters in all, and Webster received more votes than any other Boehner opponent.
As a result, Boehner ousted Webster from his post on the House Rules Committee — the type of retaliatory move that many of Boehner’s opponents cited in wanting him to step down.
A former speaker of the House in Florida, Webster, 66, says he could transform the way the House does business. In Florida, he says, he tackled the most important issues first and didn’t run up against deadlines like Congress does. He has said repeatedly that he wants to flatten “the pyramid of power” so all members get more of a say in how the House is run.
The American people are looking for transformation, he says in a short campaign video directed as his colleagues voting in the speaker’s race.
“As speaker of the House, I would commit to serving you by promoting principle over power, by making you successful by telling you the truth and by earning the right to be heard, not demanding it,” Webster said in the video.
Webster was elected to the House in 2010 after serving in the Florida legislature from 1980 through 2008. After serving as speaker of the Florida House, he moved to the Florida Senate where he became majority leader. In Congress, he serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
One potential problem for Webster — his district may disappear or get more Democratic voters after new congressional lines are drawn in a court-ordered redistricting.
Webster and his wife, Sandy, have six children and 10 grandchildren.
Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.
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