“All that could be put on the back-burner because we can’t elect a speaker,” Rooney said by phone on Tuesday. Is it highly unlikely? Yes. But not impossible, Rooney insisted. “Don’t think it can’t happen. Whenever I think of what’s the worse-case scenario that can happen with this Congress, it’s not altogether wrong all the time,” he said. “Just try us.”
This nightmare scenario is one that Speaker John Boehner might actually have contemplated when he set the election for his replacement. When he announced his resignation last month, Boehner said it would become effective on October 30. On Monday, he set the floor vote for the day before, allowing for a last-minute change if the House failed to replace him. (A senior member of the Rules Committee, Representative Tom Cole, told reporters on Tuesday that if no one received enough votes on the 29th, Boehner would stay on until someone did.) Boehner also announced that he was pushing back the date of elections for the House’s other top leadership positions to November, meaning that Republicans would only vote to replace McCarthy as majority leader if he wins the floor election as speaker.
The parliamentary chess moves only underscore the chasm in the House GOP, which Chaffetz’s surprise move has only deepened. The media-friendly conservative, serving his fourth term in Congress and his first as chairman of the Oversight Committee, has offered himself as a kind of pre-emptive consensus candidate, ready to swoop in if and when McCarthy falls short of the needed 218. But allies of McCarthy now insist that even if the hard-right members of the Freedom Caucus denied him the speakership, Chaffetz wouldn’t get it. “If Jason thinks this is going to make him speaker, I think he’s really miscalculated the feeling of the caucus,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, a McCarthy supporter, told me.
McCarthy has himself to blame for a large part of his predicament. His comments suggesting Republicans created the Benghazi Committee to bring down Hillary Clinton have drawn bipartisan rebuke. They gave Chaffetz an opening, and on Tuesday the panel’s chairman, Trey Gowdy, piled on with a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger assessment. “Kevin is a friend, which makes the disappointment, frankly, even more bitter,” he told The Washington Post. Clinton has predictably seized on McCarthy’s remark, and in a move that could further exacerbate the anger among Republicans, plastered them all over the country in a national television ad, her first of the election. The ad prompted McCarthy to issue yet another statement disavowing his unprompted analysis on Fox News.
The mission of the Select Committee on Benghazi is to find the truth -- Period. The integrity of Chairman Gowdy, the committee and the work they’ve accomplished is beyond reproach. The serious questions Secretary Clinton faces are due entirely to her own decision to put classified information at risk and endanger our national security.
His supporters, meanwhile, have been forced to defend a man who a week ago was expected to easily slide into the speaker’s chair. “The guy’s been working his ass off for 10 years to be a leader in our party, helping candidates get elected, hosting dinners and everything under the sun,” Rooney said. “Everybody’s allowed to have a slip of the tongue once in a while.”