U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, officially entered the race to become House speaker on Sunday morning, saying he offers the kind of “fresh face” needed to ease the friction between the far right and the rest of the Republican Party.
The announcement, which has been expected for several days, will complicate things for U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader who just a week ago was thought to have an unimpeded path to replace the outgoing speaker, John A. Boehner.
Though McCarthy remains a strong favorite, backed by Boehner and influential Republicans including U.S. Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, there has been growing opposition from conservative members of the party who want a greater leadership shake-up than McCarthy’s ascension would likely offer.
“The American public wants to see a change. They want a fresh start,” Chaffetz said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s a reason why we see this phenomenon across the country, and you don’t just give an automatic promotion to the existing leadership team. That doesn’t signal change.”
The Republican House conference is expected to vote late this week to choose its candidate for speaker. Any candidate needs to secure the support of a majority of the party’s members to advance to a vote on the House floor later this month.
Though McCarthy could emerge as the conference’s choice, Chaffetz, 48, said that he does not expect the majority leader would be able to earn the votes of the majority of House members – 218 votes – necessary to become speaker.
“Things have changed and there’s really a math problem,” Chaffetz said. “You need 218 votes on the floor of the House. There’s 246 Republicans that will vote, but there are nearly 50 people and a growing number that will not and cannot vote for Kevin McCarthy as the speaker on the floor.”
Given that there are no Democrats expected to back McCarthy in a floor vote, he cannot lose more than 28 Republican votes if he is to become speaker.
Chaffetz’s time as chairman of the Oversight Committee has been marked by sharp criticism of the Secret Service and Planned Parenthood.
U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida is also running for the post.