Earlier this week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, was busy trying to push his colleague Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to run for majority leader.
On Friday, news broke that Chaffetz was laying the groundwork for a leadership run of his own. The chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is making a bid for speaker, according to sources and as first reported by Politico.
A House Republican told CQ Roll Call Chaffetz is indeed running, and has been invited to participate in the much-anticipated “conservative group forum” scheduled for Tuesday evening at the Capitol Hill Club, to be hosted by the House Freedom Caucus, the Tea Party Caucus, the Liberty Caucus and the Conservative Opportunity Society.
A GOP aide said Chaffetz was making the rounds collecting colleagues’ phone numbers on Thursday; on Friday, another Republican lawmaker said his chief of staff contacted Chaffetz’s office directly after hearing he was working to build his list of contacts.
The chief of staff asked Chaffetz’s office whether the Utah Republican was running for a leadership position, but the office would neither confirm nor deny the rumors other than to say the chief’s boss should expect a call at some point.
A spokeswoman for Chaffetz did not immediately return a request for comment.
Chaffetz would be getting into the race late in the game, left with just half of Friday, a weekend and three full weekdays to shore up support before members vote on a speaker nomination on Oct. 8 .
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the favorite to succeed resigning Speaker John A. Boehner, has been publicly expressing confidence he will win the nomination in the GOP conference — and go on to win 218 votes on the chamber floor to seal the deal. But McCarthy is already risking losing some votes to challenger Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla.
Webster’s bid is given little chance of success, but he’s liked among conservatives for his promise to emphasize “process” and “regular order,” rather than leading from the top down.
With Democrats expected to back Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., McCarthy — or whomever the GOP nominee proves to be — can’t afford to lose a lot of Republican votes
Adding to the suspense are rumors that yet another possible GOP candidate for speaker could emerge — at least that’s what Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., hinted to reporters Thursday.
A Republican House member also told CQ Roll Call Friday the unnamed candidate might not even announce a run until the floor vote — if he or she decides to run at all.
Though Chaffetz is respected throughout the conference, it’s not clear what support he’ll get from conservatives, and members of the House Freedom Caucus in particular.
The first-term Oversight and Government Reform chairman did himself no favors with the HFC back in June, when he took a subcommittee gavel away from one of the group’s own, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, in retaliation for voting against a rule on the chamber floor.
Chaffetz ultimately caved to pressure — and a technicality — and gave Meadows back his subcommittee chairmanship. And during a subsequent meeting with the HFC to discuss the incident, a lawmaker told CQ Roll Call, members reportedly told Chaffetz he was someone they could see one day as speaker.
Meanwhile, Chaffetz’s power move could be seen as a particular surprise given the fact that just the day before he was stating support for McCarthy, even as he urged the majority leader to walk back his controversial remarks on the Benghazi committee.
“I told [McCarthy] I’m supportive of him, but I have to distance myself from his comments,” Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call and The Associated Press Thursday.
Asked whether he thought the comments would hurt McCarthy, Chaffetz gave a long pause before he answered: “There are are a lot of factors that go into it. I think he misspoke, but I hope he clarifies it.”