Updated 2:50 p.m. | House Republicans were in disarray Thursday after House GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy unexpectedly took himself out of the race for House speaker. "I am not the one," the California Republican told colleagues inside the room, according to Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.
The move left the party scrambling to figure out who might step up in McCarthy's place in the race and raised new questions about how House leaders would handle a series of upcoming deadlines related to the debt limit and fiscal 2016 spending.
The first step in the speaker selection was supposed to start at noon Thursday, but members emerged from the Ways and Means Committee room saying that the elections had been postponed.
In a 1 p.m. news conference, McCarthy said: "We need a new face. ... I don't want to go to the floor and win with 220 votes." Speculation was rampant about why McCarthy withdrew — and some of his fellow members offered their own takes. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said on CNN he thought McCarthy “was not confident that he could get the 218 votes on the floor.”
McCarthy Drops Out of Race for Speaker
Rep. Rich Nugent of Florida said there were "rumors" about why McCarthy was stepping aside, including that perhaps there were some promises he couldn't make to the conservative House Freedom Caucus. McCarthy, who said he'll remain majority leader, was asked at his short news conference whether his recent comments about the House Select Committee on Benghazi and the subsequent ethics questions raised factored into his decision. "It wasn't helpful," he said.
Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said McCarthy “just can’t meet the demands that are being asked for — immediate rule changes that the majority of the conference doesn’t support.”
Speaker John A. Boehner was spotted storming out of the room after the announcement. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said Boehner did not say whether his retirement date would change as a result of the postponement.
"As I have said previously, I will serve as Speaker until the House votes to elect a new Speaker," Boehner said later in a written statement. "We will announce the date for this election at a later date, and I’m confident we will elect a new Speaker in the coming weeks."
Many members said there was no consensus yet on next steps.
"Everyone's plans are dead in the water right now," Rules Chairman Pete Sessions said in a hallway interview. "We're all stunned," agreed House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said it was “mayhem” when the announcement was made and other Republicans said that several members started crying. McCarthy, whose wife was in attendance, was “calm, cool and collected."
Sanford named two people who probably could lock up 218 votes for speaker if they threw their hat in the ring: Trey Gowdy and Paul D. Ryan.
Asked who could potentially win the speaker’s race, Dent said, “Probably somebody like Paul Ryan.”
But Ryan quickly said he would not run.
In a statement, the Wisconsin Republican said: "Kevin McCarthy is best person to lead the House, and so I’m disappointed in this decision. ... While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate.”
Rep. Dave Brat, the Virginia Republican who beat former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary last summer, said, "Pragmatically, I think we're probably moving toward regular order. We want a principled leader."
Going into the event, the far right House Freedom Caucus had endorsed an alternative candidate for speaker: Daniel Webster of Florida. Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah is also a declared candidate.
"As far as I know we’re still having the election on the 29th, but I guess that’s suspect at best, so we’ll see," Chaffetz said after McCarthy's announcement. "Our conference needs to come together, and whatever they decide, that’s what we’ll do."
"There's an incredible amount of talent in that room," said Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska. "We have an opportunity to be deliberate here." He mentioned the idea of a caretaker speaker who could carry Republicans through the next two months while the conference settles on another leader.
Rep. Harold Rogers said McCarthy told him personally, after making the announcement, that he stepped aside because "there's too much anger." He said he believes McCarthy had the votes to ultimately win the speakership.
"This was all we needed" the House Appropriations chairman said, shaking his head. He also said, "I'm not the person for that job," taking himself out of the running.
Gowdy was seen stomping into an elevator and uttered an emphatic, "No!" when asked if he would run for speaker.
CQ Roll Call staff contributed to this report.
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