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Speaker search puts House GOP in ‘complete disarray’

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington — With no warning, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew Thursday from the contest for speaker of the U.S. House, shocking fellow Republicans just before voting was to begin and plunging Congress’ GOP leadership into chaos.

Lawmakers said they were thunderstruck and in disbelief following McCarthy’s announcement, which came moments after they had showed up for an election nearly certain to end with McCarthy as their pick for speaker.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Rep. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania. Said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina: “We don’t know why he did it.”

The election was postponed, as may be the scheduled Oct. 29 vote for speaker by the full House, Democrats as well as Republicans.

What happens next is unknown. McCarthy was by far the heavy favorite to replace Speaker John Boehner, who announced under pressure from conservatives that he would resign at the end of the month. Congress is facing major budget deadlines and fiscal decisions.

The other two Republican candidates for speaker — Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida — lack widespread support in the House GOP, although Webster has the backing of the hardline House Freedom Caucus.

But Thursday’s secret ballot — even if it had proceeded as expected — still would have been merely an early skirmish in the chaotic battle to lead the House. It was to have been followed by the vote in the full House where the Freedom Caucus could have blocked McCarthy’s ascent.

It wasn’t clear when the elections would be rescheduled, or if McCarthy, a 50-year-old Californian, would stay on as majority leader.

But one of Michigan’s nine House Republicans expressed confidence the Republicans will find a leader.

“I respect Kevin’s decision and believe that, in the upcoming weeks, the conference will elect a speaker with strong conservative values who can advance the people’s agenda,” said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, who is vice chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Some Michigan Republicans say House members are debating whether to select an interim speaker before holding an election for the permanent speaker for the rest of this congressional term.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said Thursday he repeated a suggestion he made two weeks ago: Choose a “caretaker,” such as retiring Miller or Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who “have leadership experience, chairmanship experience, great respect among the conference who are tough but fair.”

The House will get a speaker, Walberg said, “but it’s hard to go through.”

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he has no idea what will happen next.

But the House needs a strong speaker to steer it through difficult issues such as the debt ceiling, funding the government and long-term highway funding.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. , D-Detroit, said Republicans “were showing the usual disarray, and it's not going to be good. They may not be able to find a speaker.”

Walberg disagreed, saying it’s a strength that Republicans show independence and don’t march in lockstep like the Democrats.

“We’re not a one-size-fits-all like the Democrat Party -- just look at the presidential race,” he said.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, is part of the House Freedom Caucus that has endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Florida, for speaker. Amash voted against Boehner in the last two elections for speaker.

Amash has criticized Boehner and other leaders for a “govern by crisis” approach that leads to frustration and finger-pointing among members, and for punishing Republicans who vote against the wishes of leadership. The Grand Rapids area Republican lost a seat on the Budget Committee this way.

“A mere reshuffling of current leadership won’t work,” Amash wrote in a commentary this week for CNN.com.

“Dissatisfaction keeps growing. We cannot have more of the same,” Amash wrote. “It’s time to choose a speaker who will restore respect and order to the House so that we can once again govern as the Constitution intends.”

Detroit News Staff Writers David Shepardson and Melissa Nann Burke contributed.