- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2015

The House’s top investigator, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, announced Sunday that he would challenge Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the speakership, setting up a major battle this week as Republicans settle on a successor to outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner.

The Utah Republican’s bid means Mr. McCarthy, of California, won’t win by acclamation and conservatives can rally around Mr. Chaffetz as their champion.

“We were entreated by the American people with the largest majority the Republicans have ever had since Babe Ruth was swinging the baseball bat. But they didn’t send us here to perpetuate the status quo,” Mr. Chaffetz said in announcing his bid on “Fox News Sunday.”

“They want us to tackle the tough issues,” he said. “They want us to fight. They want us to take that fight to the Senate. They want us to take that fight to the president. And they want us to take that fight to the American people.”

Mr. Chaffetz faces an uphill battle to claim the speaker’s gavel.

Mr. McCarthy has lined up support of the majority of Republican members, though likely short of the 218 votes needed to win. Mr. Chaffetz has yet to consolidate support among conservative members who are unhappy with the current leadership team.

It doesn’t help Mr. Chaffetz that, as a committee chairman, he is part of the leadership team and that he used his post to punish conservative members this year who staged a failed coup against Mr. Boehner.

With the leadership elections set for Thursday, Republicans are torn between Mr. McCarthy, an establishment candidate whose abilities are in doubt, and Mr. Chaffetz and other alternatives from the conservative flank, whose tactics and willingness to shut down the government are feared by the party’s moderates.

Approximately 50 conservative Republican members oppose Mr. McCarthy, more than enough to thwart his quest for 218 votes. Republicans hold 246 of the 434 currently occupied seats in the House.

Mr. Chaffetz described it as Mr. McCarthy’s “math problem.”

Mr. Chaffetz earned his seat in Congress by ousting an incumbent Republican in 2008, in part over the issue of immigration.

Since then, he has quickly ascended and became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this term. In that role, he has led the investigations into Planned Parenthood and the federal Office of Personnel Management data breach. He was the first major lawmaker to demand the ouster of OPM’s chief.

Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, had been the favorite, but he stumbled last week by appearing to lend credence to Democrats’ arguments that the Benghazi probe is a political operation designed to sink former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid.

The speakership opened with the surprise announcement of Mr. Boehner that he would resign at the end of this month, citing ongoing turmoil within the Republican conference from conservatives opposed to his leadership.

Mr. Chaffetz insisted that he could “bridge the divide” and then start winning fights to advance the Republican agenda.

He praised Mr. McCarthy as a “good man” and credited him with helping build the solid Republican majority in the House, but he also identified him as part of the problem vexing the conference.

“He’s been in existing leadership for years and years, and the strife and the divide is getting worse; it’s not getting better,” Mr. Chaffetz said.

In presenting an argument for his candidacy, Mr. Chaffetz gave voice to the many conservative grievances with their leadership, including that Mr. Boehner of Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky readily cave under the pressure of President Obama and congressional Democrats.

“I am not there just to perpetuate the status quo. I am not there to just do what Mitch McConnell or the president wants to do,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “I’m there to do what we were elected to do.”

He also said he offers a more articulate alternative to Mr. McCarthy, who has come under fire for saying that the Benghazi committee is responsible for Mrs. Clinton’s declining poll numbers.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” Mr. McCarthy told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.”

The remark gave Democrats fresh ammunition to claim that the committee is a partisan witch hunt, and it raised doubts within the Republican ranks about Mr. McCarthy’s suitability for the top job in the House.

“You’ve got to speak,” said Mr. Chaffetz. “You’ve got to be able to articulate the Republican message to the American people and take that fight to the president. But you also have to bridge internally and that’s where we’ve got some conflict.”

He said his colleagues recruited him to take on Mr. McCarthy.

“The American public wants to see a change. They want a fresh start. There’s a reason we see this phenomenon across the country, and you don’t just give an automatic promotion to the existing leadership team,” he said. “That doesn’t signal change.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who is backing Mr. McCarthy in the speaker’s race, said she thinks he will have the votes Thursday. But she acknowledged that the Benghazi remark hurt him.

“There is no doubt it is something that has hurt him, and I’m sure he wishes he could take it back,” Ms. Blackburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think he was trying to say what we’ve heard [former Mississippi Gov.] Haley Barbour say over and over: If you focus on good policy, it is going to make good politics. But that is not the way it came out.”

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