WASHINGTON (AP) — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised conservative GOP lawmakers Tuesday "I'm not John Boehner" as he sought their support to replace Boehner as speaker.
McCarthy and his two Republican rivals for the speaker's job took turns meeting behind closed doors with a coalition of four groups comprising the most conservative members in the House. The lawmakers forced Boehner to resign and are now maneuvering to deny his No. 2, McCarthy, the chance to ascend unless he agrees to various demands.
Lawmakers present said McCarthy pledged changes to the House.
"I think McCarthy's pitch was 'I'm not John Boehner, I'm going to run things differently, I'm my own man,'" said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. "And I think that's a case that he does have to make. One of the things I hear all the time from my constituents back in Texas is we don't want John Boehner 2.0."
The other two lawmakers running for the job — Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida — also addressed the group.
McCarthy appears to have the support of most House Republicans, and is likely to emerge as their nominee for speaker in secret-ballot elections set for Thursday.
But that does not guarantee he will prevail when the full House votes for a new speaker in open session on Oct. 29. That's when conservatives will have their leverage, because McCarthy can lose only 29 votes to come out the winner.
McCarthy remains the favorite and has Boehner's support, but conservatives say they will not back him unless they're convinced he'll take the House in a new direction. They want more involvement in decision-making and a tough line on issues like raising the federal debt ceiling and deleting funding for Planned Parenthood in must-pass spending legislation — even though that risks a government shutdown.
"What Kevin has against him is he's John Boehner's right-hand man," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, chairman of the Tea Party Caucus.
"He's going to have to reach out and work with conservatives like they've never done since I've been here," said Huelskamp, elected in 2010.
The uncertain outcome has caused turmoil, even chaos, in the House, even as lawmakers face daunting tasks including raising the debt ceiling by early November to avoid a market-rupturing default.
McCarthy's candidacy was hurt by a gaffe last week where he boasted that the House's Benghazi investigations committee could take credit for Hillary Rodham Clinton's falling poll numbers. He retracted it, but Clinton is now using the moment in a campaign ad, and the fracas gave Chaffetz an opening to jump into the race.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said McCarthy apologized in the meeting for his Benghazi comments. "He said it wasn't a good choice of words."
Chaffetz chairs the high-profile House Oversight and Government Reform Committee while Webster, who has unsuccessfully challenged Boehner in the past, already has a handful of endorsements from conservatives.
Chaffetz was upbeat as he and his wife left the meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, claiming he'd picked up some support. "I would just fundamentally change the way we do business around here, so it was fun," he said.
McCarthy left through a side exit without commenting.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.