So why run, given the slim possibility of victory? Chaffetz has always been a man on the move, according to observers, long before he sought to join the Secret Service in 2003. His first job was public relations for Nu Skin International, a Utah-based multilevel marketing company. The business sold personal care products and dietary supplements — Chaffetz is a member of the Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus — and his experience helped propel the young Utahn to his next position as a press liaison for Jon Huntsman’s gubernatorial campaign.
Luck played a certain role in what happened next. Huntsman’s campaign manager resigned, leaving Chaffetz to take the spot. He became Huntsman’s chief-of-staff upon his victory, and stayed for less than a year before striking out on his own with a new marketing firm, Maxtera Utah, in 2005. Within three years, he was elected to Congress, joining the House freshman class of 2008.
An affable lawmaker, well-liked by colleagues, Chaffetz quickly tried to distinguish himself by jumping into several hot-button debates du jour. In 2009, he introduced an amendment to ban “whole body imaging” at airport security checkpoints. (“You don’t have to look at my wife and 8-year-old daughter naked to secure an airplane,” he said at the time.)
By 2010, he had voted to bar the Obama administration from funding any Afghanistan activity except for withdrawal of U.S. troops, placing him to the left of most Republicans. Around that time, he also threatened to challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) from the right, though he never officially launched a campaign.
More recently, as a member and now chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he’s had his hands in nearly every Obama administration controversy of concern to Republicans. (He replaced Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in the committee’s top spot, beating out three other Republican candidates with help from his now-opponent, McCarthy.) The IRS targeting controversy, the “Fast and Furious” debacle, the 2012 Benghazi attacks — there’s not one investigation that Chaffetz hasn’t sought to shape. He’s a member prone to raising the specter of impeachment — for President Obama in 2013, over Benghazi, and for IRS Commissioner John Koskinen this year — and even found himself at odds with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser over District marijuana policy in February.
Not all of Chaffetz’s press has been positive.
Recently, conservative commentators claimed he botched a hearing with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. Even HBO “Last Week Tonight” anchor John Oliver got in on the criticism, pointing to a misleading graph Chaffetz’s team used during the hearing. Chaffetz risked his positive ties to House conservatives when he removed Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) as an Oversight subcommittee chairman over Meadows’s votes against Republican leadership. Chaffetz restored Meadows’s gavel soon after, but his original decision raised eyebrows on the right.
A handful of Chaffetz actions have also caused friction with other members. Early this year, he replaced the portraits of former chairmen in the Oversight chamber with pictures of everyday Americans. “I gotta do it with my own style,” he told Politico. It doesn’t sound like he has the best relationship with his former boss, either: Huntsman tweeted Monday night that “McCarthy just got ‘Chaffetzed,’ something I know a little something about.” His hashtags? #selfpromoter and #powerhungry.
Chaffetz was born in California but starting in college, he put down roots in Utah, where he was the kicker for the Brigham Young University football team. After being raised by a Jewish father and Christian Scientist mother, he converted to Mormonism at BYU. He also became a Republican, citing the influence of Ronald Reagan. Many in his extended family are Democrats; in fact, Chaffetz’s father was previously married to Kitty Dukakis, wife of Michael Dukakis, and Chaffetz was Utah co-chairman of Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988.
This week, Chaffetz is pitching himself as an effective alternative to McCarthy, someone who can unite the Republican establishment with conservatives.
“You just don’t give a promotion to the existing leadership team,” Chaffetz told Fox on Sunday. “That doesn’t signal change.”