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Rep. McCarthy Stuns Colleagues By Pulling Out Of Leadership Election


A politician's life may include moments of freefall.


There is, for example, the moment when the presidential campaign falls apart or the moment when you say something catastrophic on TV or the moment when the indictment gets handed down.

INSKEEP: Or consider the moment when the House speaker resigns and his chosen successor abruptly withdraws under pressure, leaving no idea what happens next. Kevin McCarthy gave no advanced warning yesterday when he backed out, throwing the House in the chaos. He was undone by the same Republican Party divisions that drove out Speaker John Boehner. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Some families are so dysfunctional, you wonder if they can ever heal. House Republicans have had many family meetings since Speaker John Boehner announced he was leaving. But conservative Matt Salmon of Arizona wonders what difference all that talking made.

MATT SALMON: We've been promised and lied to so many times, we've stopped counting. So it's not just about promises.

CHANG: The promise was they would have more influence after Boehner's departure. But after all the group therapy in the last couple weeks, Salmon wasn't convinced that conservatives like him would get the respect they wanted.

SALMON: There've been a lot of talk by all candidates, all three of them, about changing the top-down approach to a bottom-up approach. But talk is really cheap.

CHANG: So about 40 conservatives declared before the leadership election they were ditching the presumptive next speaker, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. At the last minute, McCarthy pulled out of the contest.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think I shocked some of you.

CHANG: Yeah. Members say some in the room started crying when McCarthy announced his decision. The election is now off until House Republicans can coalesce around a new candidate.


MCCARTHY: We'll probably need a fresh face. I'll stay on as majority leader. But the one thing I've found in talking to everybody, if we are going to unite and be strong, we need a new face to help do that.

CHANG: But what new face can pull together a caucus that's been fighting with itself for years?


JASON CHAFFETZ: We need to have a lot more family discussion.

CHANG: Utah's Jason Chaffetz says he's still in the running.


CHAFFETZ: Our conference is going to have to do a lot of deep soul-searching, and we'll see what happens.

CHANG: But conservative Republicans say, enough soul-searching. They want concrete action. They want to change rules so leadership shares power more equally with the rank-and-file. And John Fleming of Louisiana says he doesn't want to see his friends get punished anymore for disagreeing with the speaker.

JOHN FLEMING: We're the ones who oftentimes are being blamed for not being part of the team when, if we're the ones being attacked and kicked off committees, then who's being a team player there?

CHANG: Other conservatives say McCarthy didn't offer enough detail about how he would empower them after Boehner left. Here's Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

TIM HUELSKAMP: There were no changes offered. By Kevin, it was basically Boehner 2.0 but not quite. And I can't tell you what the difference would be.

CHANG: But if different is what they want, their rejection of McCarthy means Boehner could be sticking around longer. If that makes anyone unhappy, Republican Devin Nunes of California says the most conservative members are free to leave the family.

DEVIN NUNES: We're a democratic republic. So you have to caucus as parties. And if you don't like what happened in your party, then you leave the Republican Party and you go start your own party.

CHANG: But for the time being, the Republican Party in the House remains in disarray, just as Congress plows towards a November deadline to raise the debt ceiling and a December deadline to keep the government open. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.