Lee Terry, Bill Shuster, Kevin McCarthy

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Lisa Mascaro
OCtoer 8, 2015

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s stunning decision to drop out of the race to become the next speaker left Republicans in disarray Thursday, threatening to deepen long-standing fractures in the party just as Congress faces a string of fiscal and legislative deadlines.

The California Republican, who had failed to win over GOP conservatives, said he stepped aside after concluding that he would be unable to unite the party after current Speaker John. A. Boehner steps down.

“We’re servants. We should put this conference first,” McCarthy said Thursday. “If we are going to unite and be strong, we need a new face.”

Party officials abruptly canceled plans for Thursday’s nomination vote, which McCarthy was expected to easily win. A scheduled Oct. 29 floor vote for speaker – where McCarthy’s chances were far less certain – remained in doubt.

Lawmakers had just settled in for a long lunch session Thursday over barbecue sandwiches when McCarthy stood up and shocked his peers by announcing that he wasn’t the right candidate at this moment for the speaker’s job.

“He simply said that he didn’t want it to be divisive and when it came to running for speaker, he’s not the guy,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, member of the influential conservative House Freedom Caucus, which played a role in forcing out Boehner and opposing McCarthy’s bid.

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McCarthy’s bid for the post was hurt by a high-profile TV stumble in which he appeared to suggest that the GOP-led House investigation of the 2012 Benghazi attack was partly aimed at weakening Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. Critics capitalized on the remark.

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