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Kevin McCarthy drops out of the Speaker Race

In a surprise move, majority leader Kevin McCarthy abruptly dropped out of the race to become the Speaker on Thursday, plunging his House Republican colleagues into chaos and escalating the already heightened concerns about the party’s ability to govern effectively. The presumptive successor to the present Speaker John A. Boehner ended his bid after determining he could not get the support he needed from conservatives, saying he was still short of the support needed to be an effective speaker. The move came without warning as House Republicans were in a closed-door meeting to select their nominee for speaker with McCarthy’s wife and kids in the room. That left the GOP with no obvious choice, except Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has said several times he is not going to run.

The California Republican, who will remain in the party’s No. leadership post, had been widely expected to win the House GOP’s secret ballot nomination. All he needed was a simple majority of the 247-member caucus, which could have been easily gotten him the votes over his rivals Jason Chaffetz of Utah or Daniel Webster of Florida. But before even if he’d won, he backed out, saying that he had concluded he could not unite the increasingly fractious Republican majority. McCarthy knew he was way behind the kind of threshold he needed on the floor, knowing Democrats would vote as a bloc against him.

“I am not that guy,” said Mr. McCarthy, with his family by his side, according to the members who were in the room.

“Over the last week it has become clear to me that our Conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader," McCarthy said in a statement released by his office. "I have always put this Conference ahead of myself. Therefore I am withdrawing my candidacy for Speaker of the House. I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to help move our Conference’s agenda and our country forward.”

Mr. McCarthy’s unexpected decision left a leadership void in the House that Republicans were scrambling to fill, just weeks before the Treasury Department faces a debt default deadline that could roil markets, and two months before a deadline for a budget deal to avoid another government shutdown. The Treasury’s Nov. 5 deadline has already put House Republicans on the edge of a catastrophic fall. It would have been one of McCarthy’s first tasks as Speaker, or one of Boehner’s last. Now House Republicans are scrambling to identify a potential replacement who could possibly fill the void.

McCarthy’s candidacy ran into trouble after his comments on Fox News last week suggesting that the House Select Committee on Benghazi was set up largely to damage Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. McCarthy later apologized and said that was neither what he meant nor the intent of the committee, which was created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Conservatives reacted with outrage that McCarthy’s comments undermined the work of the committee as nonpartisan. The offensive came two weeks before Clinton is set to make her first public testimony before the committee. In response, the Clinton campaign blasted off his comments on a national televised ad, slamming the $4.5 million the House panel has spent to attack Hillary.

House Republicans will meet Friday morning in an effort to find their footing before breaking for a one-week Columbus Day break – and as other legislative deadlines approach, including the Treasury’s. As if McCarthy’s comments weren’t enough to put a dent on the House floor, now his sudden withdrawal further intensified the turmoil in the upper echelon of the House GOP already battered by the unexpected primary loss of former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in June 2014. The turmoil in the House only added to the uncertainty for the Republican Party, who has little time to restore order, while the presidential race has months to spare to sort itself out.

With McCarthy out of the game, and if it’s not Paul Ryan who has been repeatedly turning down the offer, the only possible candidates for the Speaker of the House post remain are Chaffetz and Webster, but it seems likely that Republicans will cast a wider grid in search for someone who can unite the wings of the party. There’s Jeb Hensarling, the chairman of the Financial Services Committee and a favorite among conservatives. And both Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, and Tom Price, the budget chief, might try to run now, knowing they can’t replace McCarthy who remains the majority leader. For now, Boehner remains in charge of the office until a new speaker is elected, though he has yet to announce the date for the new vote.

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