Republicans are getting used to surprises. “We rejected the top two. The other top two got beat a year ago. I mean, where’s Eric Cantor? He’s gone," Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp reminded reporters outside the House chamber on Thursday afternoon. "That’s basically three people in the top level that are gone in 14 months or so. That speaks to how quickly things can change."
And now that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has taken himself out of the running for speaker , should the conference expect any more bombshells from McCarthy?
Most Republicans with whom CQ Roll Call spoke to on Thursday ruled that out. They maintained that he has strong support as majority leader and won't be stepping down from his current leadership position — or from Congress.
"I’m pleased that we have a chance to actually get the majority — more than the majority — to listen to what the American people want in a leader," Utah Rep. Mia Love told CQ Roll Call. But even though Love supported fellow Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz for speaker, she doesn't think the conference is dissatisfied with McCarthy.
"I think he will stay as number two," she said.
Alaska Rep. Don Young agreed: "I think he will stay here. He's done a great job,"
Asked if McCarthy's pulling himself out of the running for speaker damages his credibility as a leader, Young disagreed with an emphatic, "No, no no."
Missouri's Jason Smith seconded Young's appraisal. McCarthy, Smith said, is "absolutely" well-liked by the conference.
“What he did was definitely a selfless act," Smith said, suggesting that McCarthy wanted to help unify the party by making room for a fresh face. "Actually, I think Kevin’s been the most united force in bringing everyone together," freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock said. "He will remain as majority leader. He works with everybody," the northern Virginia representative said. Asked if he thought McCarthy would stay put, Florida Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart said, "Yeah, I think so," before adding, "I think he has very strong support."
"I respect his decision and I’m sure he has good reason for it," Díaz-Balart said, adding that he thinks the speakership is the most difficult job in the country. But not everyone agrees that McCarthy still belongs in the number two job.
"The statement was, 'I don’t have 218.' Well we all knew that. We’ve all said. We knew that long before noon. You wonder how that affects your credibility when you say you’re doing it and you back out," Huelskamp said.
"I mean, he left everybody hanging. I want to know why," Huelskamp continued. "That is clearly not leadership — pulling your name out like that," he added.
Asked if he thought McCarthy would stay put, Huelskamp said, "Oh, I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him and his wife."
Virginia's Dave Brat wouldn't go so far as to criticize McCarthy's leadership, but he was coy about whether he thought McCarthy would stay put. “Yeah, no comment on that one. I have no idea," Brat said. "I just want to see a process where our whole conference comes forward and puts our criteria for progress on paper ahead of time." Does that mean there's room for McCarthy in leadership?
“To the extent he’s willing to go with the conference on those principals, sure,” Brat said. Related: Why Did Kevin McCarthy Step Aside? With No Plan, GOP Sputters Over What's Next More Nays Than Yeas in GOP Search for Speaker Senate Stunned Over House GOP Turmoil House Republicans' Chaos Could Hurt GOP Fundraising