Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz will take on Kevin McCarthy in the race to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House, the representative announced on Fox News Sunday, promising that he could “bridge the divide” between the contentious elements within the Republican majority. The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Chaffetz becomes the first potentially significant challenger for McCarthy. The party needs to “signal change,” according to Chaffetz, and he insisted that they can’t do that by simply promoting McCarthy, who is currently the Majority Leader under Boehner. Chaffetz, who was elected to Congress in 2008, also said he was recruited to vie for the position after no other candidates stepped up, and in a subsequent interview with Politico, the congressman sold himself as one of the few people “who can win the support of our hardcore conservatives and yet be palatable to our more moderate members” and would give everyone in the party a “fair shake.”
McCarthy’s only competition up this point had been from Florida congressman Daniel Webster, but the higher profile Chaffetz, who has been one of faces of the GOP’s war on Planned Parenthood, might be able to attract a larger base of support and could thus represent an actual threat to McCarthy. On Thursday, a secret ballot vote within the GOP conference is likely to back McCarthy, but Chaffetz sees the eventual formal (and more accountable) floor vote as his opening. In addition to Chaffetz’s concerns over the party simply coronating McCarthy, he also said that he believed the next Speaker needed to be less autocratic about party policy and delegate more power to committees and allow more amendments and debate. What that might mean for future funding-impasse debates if Chaffetz was Speaker remains to be seen, though he told Politico that “the only way you can raise the debt ceiling is to change the trajectory of spending — that’s my personal preference. But I want the Ways and Means Committee to offer up a solution.” Considering how Chaffetz also wants more conservative bills passed in the House regardless of their chances in the Senate or White House, it’s safe to say he wants a significant break from the Boehner-way, though Chaffetz is not considered a member of the party’s more radical wing.
Chaffetz also doubted McCarthy’s ability to reach the American public, a problem he insists he will not have. For instance, Chaffetz criticized McCarthy’s recent comment which seemed to suggest that the GOP-led Benghazi investigation had been designed more to damage Hillary Clinton politically than uncover actual facts. “We have to have someone who can communicate the conservative message to America, and that deeply undercut it,” he added.