There are only two members officially in the race for House speaker now that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has dropped out, but they both acknowledge additional candidates will have to emerge in the days ahead.
Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida said Thursday afternoon that they are both still running, but Republicans are casting around for someone with establishment ties who can satisfy centrists but still have clout with conservative hard-liners.
It may be an impossible task. Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., stomped into an elevator away from throngs of reporters and shouted an emphatic "no!" when asked if he would run for speaker if he was basically begged to do so.
The most obvious candidate, Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., quickly put out a statement squelching speculation he would swoop in as the party's savior. Later in the afternoon, Ryan declined to answer questions from reporters about whether Boehner asked him to run for speaker.
"No comments," Ryan said repeatedly.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, also made it clear Thursday he wasn't interested in the job.
North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, who filed a motion to vacate the chair this summer to oust Speaker John A. Boehner, said he wouldn’t consider running himself. “This has never been about me. It’s all about making sure that every member has a voice. And so, while I’ve been flattered by a number of people who have asked me, that is not a consideration at all.”
Members spoke of the possibility of having an interim speaker, a "caretaker" as it were, as a bridge between Boehner's scheduled Oct. 31 departure date and a time a permanent speaker could be selected.
They mentioned names of even-keeled legislators who are well-liked by colleagues and wouldn't ruffle many feathers, such as Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, along with two members who are retiring and thus wouldn't make members anxious about the possibility of hidden ambitions: House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller of Michigan and Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline of Minnesota.
Meanwhile, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon said he would "consider" being an interim speaker at the urging of some of his colleagues.
Not everyone is on board with the idea of an interim speaker.
House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said he doubts a caretaker speaker would have the leverage to guide the House through the upcoming challenges of the debt ceiling, the 2016 spending package, moving forward on a highway bill and negotiating a fiscal 2017 top line budget number.
“The Texas guys are pretty much on board for a permanent solution. The lame-duck status of an interim guy, there’s no leverage,” Conaway said.
The scrambling was a reflection of just how unexpected McCarthy's move was.
In the lead-up to Thursday's anticipated election, members were unsure whether McCarthy had the necessary 218 votes to win, either inside the conference or among every House member on the floor initially scheduled for Oct. 29.
But members, Chaffetz and Webster among them, assumed it was really only a matter of time before McCarthy won the majority of the majority party's support, even if it took multiple ballots to get there.
"I was 99 percent sure" McCarthy had the votes to win, Webster told reporters, adding he had "no clue" how many votes he himself might have received had elections taken place today.
The GOP conference will hold a meeting Friday at 9 a.m.
Melissa Attias and Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.
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