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'What the Hell?!' Mayhem After McCarthy's Exit (Video)

Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, speaks to a swarm of reporters following the House GOP conference meeting. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra was about to do an interview with CNN, when the shocking news that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's was taking himself out of the race to become the next speaker broke.  

"I was listening though the earpiece, and we were going to talk about the Democratic presidential race. All of the sudden word comes across that the meeting broke up, and that Kevin McCarthy is withdrawing," said the California Democrat, who was striding through the midday sun, as he walked toward the carriage entrance. McCarthy's announcement stunned his conference  and turned the orderly stakeout in the Longworth Lobby into a frenzy. Outspoken critics of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who stormed out of the Ways and Means Committee room after the announcement, were quick to offer their assessments of why McCarthy wasn't the best for the job. Moderates offered their own speculation on what provoked the move. Other members headed, tight-lipped, for the elevator bay.  

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, barged through a scrum surrounding Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., growling, "Out of the way!"  

McCarthy eventually addressed the cameras, finding a confident voice compared to the faint one members said they heard when he told them of his decision. "I think we need a fresh face, I'll stay on as majority leader. ... I feel good about the decision,” McCarthy said.  

McCarthy Drops Out of Race for Speaker 

In the meeting, McCarthy's announcement was greeted with gasps and some tears.  

"It was shock, more so than when Speaker Boehner resigned," said Phil Roe, R-Tenn. "We were ready to have a vote, everybody had their barbecue and their Oreo cookies."  

Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., guessed the GOP meeting lasted no more than three minutes.  

"I think it was short and sweet. I think it just is what it is. Kevin got up and said, 'The country's more important than dividing people,' and that, 'Hey, we're dividing people.' And Boehner got up and said, 'So we're going to postpone this election,'" Walorski told CQ Roll Call as she headed to the floor from Cannon.  

Walorski said she left quickly after that because she had a constituent waiting in her office.  

Asked about Boehner's reaction to the news, she said, "I don't know. Boehner's Boehner."  

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said it "took three minutes for the news to set in," and that problems with the audio made the scene even more confusing. "We're in somewhat chaotic territory."  

On the ground floor, a level below the madness, four men in suits searched for an elevator. "Whatever the reason, this can't be good," said one man, as they rounded the corner near the office of Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., one of Boehner's chief agitators.  

Meanwhile in the basement, lunch proceeded as usual. Three-quarters of the seats in the Longworth Cafeteria were full. Staffers waited in line with their trays, some checking their phones, as they waited on the next available cashier.  

A few reporters stood outside Boehner's office after 1 p.m. trying to catch anyone who might emerge. Tour groups continued to walk by like any other day, with tourists snapping pictures of the wooden sign above the entrance that reads, "Speaker of the House John A. Boehner."  

The hallways surrounding the floor were relatively quiet, with a few members milling around as floor debate continued.  

Headed to the House office buildings, Rep. Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind. hustled across Independence Avenue Southwest, eyes on the sidewalk, narrowly beating a yellow light. An aide kept her quick pace, as they weaved around a group of tourists on the sidewalk.  

A few seconds later, Becerra strolled through the same intersection, headed towards the Capitol and smiling.  

Asked if he was happy not to be a Republican, Becerra said, "Actually, I think most of us would like to see this get resolved sooner than later because we've got all these looming deadlines."  

"A lot of us would rather see the chaos end so we can figure out where they want to go," he continued. "We can sit down and come to some common ground, but if they can't get their civil war resolved then that makes it tough for us to do anything."  

Past the House elevators, away reporters, a Democratic colleague threw his hands in the area. "What the hell?!" he greeted Becerra.  

CQ Roll Call staff contributed to this report. Pittenger: Boehner 'Very Surprised' by McCarthy's Decision