House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) will mount a speaker bid against Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who he criticized this week for a gaffe that painted the House Select Committee on Benghazi in a political light, a source close to Chaffetz confirmed.
Conservatives are agitating to put a member of their own in House leadership following the resignation announcement of current Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Conservatives, including Chaffetz, tried to draft Benghazi panel Chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) into the majority leader race, but Gowdy declined to run.
“Several of my colleagues have commented that Jason has great qualities that would make him a good speaker,” texted conservative Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who over the summer floated a plan to oust Boehner. Meadows declined to comment on Chaffetz’s specific plans.
Chaffetz will appear on “Fox News Sunday,” presumably to discuss his bid. House leadership elections are scheduled for Oct. 8, giving the fourth-term congressman less than a week to peel away votes from McCarthy and another hopeful, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.).
Fox News sent an e-mail Friday saying Chaffetz would appear on the show to “announce his decision to run for House Speaker exclusively.” In a quick follow-up, the network explained: “He plans to announce his decision on whether or not he will run for Speaker.”
Chaffetz is in his first term as head of the Oversight Committee, a position he assumed from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). So far, reviews are mixed about his performance, particularly following a Planned Parenthood hearing last week in which conservatives thought he failed to land blows against the organization’s president, Cecile Richards.
McCarthy is still the favorite to become speaker, and he indicated in a Fox News interview Thursday that he was close to having the votes locked up. Still, Chaffetz’s entry is likely to add drama as questions circulate about McCarthy’s readiness.
“We’re very close” to having the 218 votes necessary to win the speakership, he said.
The majority leader created a firestorm this week after saying that the Benghazi panel helped to lower Hillary Rodham Clinton’s poll numbers, an admission that seemed to confirm Democratic views of the panel’s use as a political tool.
Capitol Hill Democrats — along with Clinton’s campaign — reacted with outrage, prompting Boehner to step in, defend the panel and say its work would continue. Following this episode, Chaffetz became one of McCarthy’s harshest critics on the right, calling on him to apologize and saying he was “absolutely wrong” about the Benghazi probe.
“I’m very supportive of Kevin McCarthy, but those statements are just absolutely inappropriate. They should be withdrawn. Mr. McCarthy should apologize. I think it was absolutely wrong,” Chaffetz told MSNBC on Thursday.
Whether conservatives would support Chaffetz remains to be seen. In late June, the Utah Republican took away a subcommittee chairmanship from Meadows, a leadership foe, only to restore it days later. While this episode might hurt Chaffetz with the conference’s right flank, there are indications that he has respect from Meadows and his peers.
As an Oversight leader, Chaffetz has probed hot-button topics such as Planned Parenthood, problems with the Secret Service and the IRS targeting of conservative groups.
Chaffetz also played a major role in the Benghazi probe. In an op-ed written for U.S. News and World Report in May 2013, he compared the 2012 incident to the Boston Marathon bombing.
“Imagine if the search for the Boston Marathon bombers had turned up nothing. No suspects. No arrests. No answers. No progress. Would we look back less than a year later and say, as the White House did last week on Benghazi, ‘That happened a long time ago,’ ” he wrote.
“The search for justice in the case of the murdered Americans in Benghazi is every bit as relevant and important as it is for the murdered Boston Marathon victims,” he wrote.
Chaffetz’s plans were first reported by Politico, which confirmed the news with multiple sources. Further attempts to reach Chaffetz and his spokesmen went unanswered Friday afternoon.
Carol Leonnig contributed to this story.