It lasted just nine minutes.
What was supposed to be a lengthy meeting of the House Republican Conference to elect the next speaker was abruptly cut short when Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the favorite to succeed John A. Boehner, announced he was taking himself out of the running for the job. “I’m not the one,” he told the conference.
House Republicans had eschewed their regular meeting spot in the dimly lit and windowless Capitol basement for the more ornate Ways and Means Committee hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building.
They arrived shortly after noon and chatted among themselves as they piled their paper plates with lunch from the BBQ Bus. Boehner, whose office confirmed earlier Thursday he would vote for McCarthy inside the conference and on the House floor on Oct. 29, arrived through a side entrance with his security detail to gavel in the proceedings.
McCarthy had given Boehner and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, which handles the logistics of leadership elections, a heads-up just minutes before.
Then McCarthy, his wife by his side, stood before his colleagues and announced he was quitting his bid for the highest House office — and asked that the scheduled nominating election be postponed “to a later date.”
Boehner adjourned the meeting and left.
Sources in the room described a reaction among the lawmakers assembled unlike any they’d seen before — perhaps even more dramatic than when Boehner said two weeks ago he would leave Congress at the end of October.
“It was shock, more so than when Speaker Boehner resigned,” said Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “We were ready to have a vote, everybody had their barbecue and their Oreo cookies.”
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who emerged to a throng of waiting reporters from the hearing room with his plate of uneaten lunch, described the scene in the room as “mayhem.”
“Members were crying,” he said.
It felt like a funeral, said one person present, with a “receiving line” of members queueing up to shake McCarthy’s hands and wish him well, even though McCarthy hasn’t said he plans on going anywhere.
Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky, said McCarthy told him there was “too much anger” to withstand a run for speaker.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said McCarthy told him privately, “Look, there’s no way to meet the demands of what some people are demanding.”
One House Republican unaccounted for in the chaos was Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who was planning to run for majority leader in the likely event McCarthy was eventually elected speaker.
Scalise didn’t stop to chat as he walked briskly through the hallway, headed, he said, “back to his office.”
“I haven’t spoken to Kevin yet,” he said. “There is work we got to do.”
Matt Fuller, Lindsey McPherson, Bridget Bowman and Hannah Hess contributed to this report. McCarthy Drops Out of Race for Speaker
See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call’s new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.