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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

House Republicans In A Leadership Crisis

Max Schwartz and Rachel Scott analyze what Kevin McCarthy's announcement means.

The Republican Conference in the House of Representatives is in disarray Thursday after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took himself out of the race to be his party’s nominee for Speaker of the House. Many thought the Bakersfield Republican was the heir apparent to replace current Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who announced his resignation from the leadership post and the chamber after Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress.

Although he was presumed to be his party’s “nominee” for the post, there was some reason for doubt - mainly that he was not conservative enough - which was believed to be part of the reason Boehner decided to leave, and he did not want to deal with the party in-fighting that has been damaged the party’s image. McCarthy, who is still conservative, especially for California standards, is one of Boehner’s allies and not one of the chamber’s far right members. He was well liked, though, because of his fundraising ability, but that is not enough to win the speakership.

Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), who challenged Boehner for the speaker's gavel at the beginning of 114th Congress, may now be his likely successor because he has been endorsed by the Freedom Caucus, which is made up of 40 members of the House from right wing of the party.

Tea Party Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) now has a greater chance than before. He would be able to maintain order on the right, but he may be seen as a laughing stock to the mainstream, especially after his debacle with Planned Parenthood. If the Republican Conference changes the rules, he would have to resign his position as the chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in order to run.

That same rule would force Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to resign from his spot in the Republican leadership if he decides to run for Speaker of the House. He is someone who could be seen as acceptable to the right of the party, and although likely better than Chaffetz, may have a difficult time with the more mainstream Republicans, even though there may only be a small number left in the lower chamber.

Do not count out Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) - the chair of the House Budget Committee. He is someone who could appeal to all portions of the party. Those on the right, however, may not want someone whose politics are even remotely similar to those of Boehner. He, along with those who are not Webster, would not get the votes of the Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chair of the Ways and Means committee and Mitt Romney’s running mate, reaffirmed after McCarthy’s announcement that he was not going to run for speaker. According to several reports, though, Boehner called Ryan after the announcement to ask him to run.  If he does decide to run, Ryan could win because of the work he has done on Ways and Means, and because he could appeal to all parts of a party that could break into several at any moment.

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