WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker John Boehner on Monday scheduled the House election to replace him for Oct. 29 and delayed votes for lower-level posts until after that — a move widely seen as benefiting his preferred successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
House Republicans, reeling and divided in the aftermath of Boehner's resignation last month, had planned to vote Thursday by secret ballot for a new leadership team. But a number of members wanted more time to weigh their options and pursue rule changes.
Under the new plan, Thursday's vote by Republican members will only involve their nominee for speaker. That will be followed by a floor vote in the full House on Oct. 29.
It will then be up to the new speaker to set an elections date for lower-level GOP posts from majority leader on down. The speaker is the only job in the House that's voted on by members of both parties in open session; the other jobs are selected internally by the party caucuses.
"This new process will ensure House Republicans have a strong, unified team to lead our conference and focus on the American people's priorities," Boehner said in a statement.
But the change may also help McCarthy, who is working to lock up support to become speaker but facing an unexpected challenge from Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
McCarthy is the heavy favorite to prevail in the secret-ballot election Thursday, but the outcome on the floor is less certain because of potential opposition from the same 30-plus hard-line conservatives who pushed Boehner out.
The new process could allow McCarthy to lock up the nomination for speaker and give conservatives more time to potentially rally around one of their own for one of the lesser jobs.
Boehner's announcement on the timing of the elections came amid ongoing turmoil in the House GOP and as Chaffetz presented himself as a new face who can unite the House.
"If we don't inject new blood into the leadership team, our constituents are going to be irate at best," Chaffetz told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday. "There's a massive drumbeat out there that the status quo is not what we sent you there to perpetuate. This is a national wave, it's not something that was driven by Jason Chaffetz. I'm just someone who was smart enough to recognize it and try to get ahead of it."
Chaffetz, 48, has used his committee chairmanship to launch high-profile investigations of the Secret Service, Planned Parenthood and other issues. He said he had not planned to run for speaker but was recruited by Republicans — he would not name them — looking for a fresh face rather than a continuation of existing leadership.
In the days immediately following Boehner's resignation, McCarthy was viewed as the presumptive favorite to replace the outgoing speaker. But that dynamic began to shift, particularly following McCarthy's gaffe last week suggesting that the purpose of a special House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, was to drive down Hillary Rodham Clinton's poll numbers. Clinton, secretary of state at that time, is now the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president.
McCarthy retracted the comment and said he regrets it, but it's given a potent weapon to Democrats ahead of a high-profile Oct. 22 appearance by Clinton before the committee.
McCarthy could lose 29 Republicans and still come out with majority support on the floor, but so far he has not claimed he has the needed 218 votes. But Chaffetz' ability to get 218 votes in the House seems even less certain.
That suggests ongoing tumult in the weeks leading to the floor vote, even as Congress is confronting a weighty to-do list, starting with raising the government's borrowing limit in early November.
This story has been corrected to say the full House vote for speaker will be held Oct. 29, rather than Thursday.