Government & Politics

Can Jason Chaffetz Win the Speakership?

It's a long shot bid for the House Oversight chairman.

Lewis Morris · Oct. 6, 2015

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced his intention to run for House speaker Sunday, adding a new dimension to the race to replace John Boehner, who will step down Oct. 30.

“We were entrusted by the American people with the largest majority the Republicans have ever had since Babe Ruth was swinging the baseball bat,” Chaffetz told Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace. “But they didn’t send us here to perpetuate the status quo.”

Currently chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Chaffetz has made a name for himself by going after abuses of power by the Obama administration. Among the investigations with which he has been intimately involved are Fast & Furious, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Benghazi terrorist attack, and the Secret Service (which retaliated with unflattering information about him). He is currently leading an investigation into Planned Parenthood and whether that group should be stripped of taxpayer funding.

Chaffetz, a Mormon who worked in the private sector before being elected to Congress in 2008, has a pretty good conservative record. He has worked against government waste and abuse, and his uncompromising style would be a welcome addition to a Republican leadership that so far has done little with its power to make any meaningful change in Washington.

Chaffetz also called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who apparently tried to speak for him in pledging that there would be no government shutdowns under his watch. “He’s absolutely flat-out wrong,” Chaffetz told reporters. “If he wants to say that for his body, great. I’m frustrated, and I am not going to lose any negotiating power and admit defeat before we’ve even started.”

Conservatives have one problem with Chaffetz. The Daily Signal reports, “This summer, Chaffetz used his authority to strip Rep. Mark Meadows, a House Freedom Caucus founder from North Carolina, of his subcommittee chairmanship for voting against a procedural motion.” Chaffetz did go on to heed the complaints of conservative members and restore Meadows, however, leaving most members considering it “water under the bridge.”

The Utah congressman, who sleeps on a cot in his office while in Washington, at first glance doesn’t seem to stand much of a chance against current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. It’s not uncommon for the person in that position to rise to the speakership in the event of a vacancy, but Chaffetz maintains that McCarthy doesn’t have the support necessary to carry the vote.

“We need a speaker who is an effective communicator,” Chaffetz told colleagues via email. “Equally important, we need a body of Representatives who are supported by the leadership for the work they were elected to do.”

McCarthy recently got himself into trouble for suggesting that the Benghazi investigation was politically motivated. He told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?” As if that were the reason the committee was created in the first place. Democrats have already convinced much of the media that the committee is nothing more than a witch hunt. McCarthy’s stupid mistake doesn’t help the cause.

McCarthy has since tried to “clarify” his remarks, but every time he opens his mouth he keeps sticking his foot in it. Republicans and Democrats alike came down hard on him, and Chaffetz used the episode as one example of why he believes McCarthy should not just win the speakership by default.

The full House vote on Oct. 29 could be up for grabs. “The reality is there are already more than 50 Republicans who have indicated they cannot or will not vote for a current member of our leadership team to be the Speaker,” Chaffetz said. “Given that reality, uniting behind a candidate that can get to the 218 votes necessary to win the Speakership is critically important. I am confident I can bridge this divide and work effectively together with all members of our Conference.”

Chaffetz is correct in his view that the American people are looking for fresh leadership. It’s no accident that the top GOP presidential candidates have no political experience. And many Republicans around the country and in Washington have lost faith in the current GOP leadership. It’s time that the reins be handed over to a new crop of Republicans who are committed to smaller government and accountability. But whoever the speaker (and let’s face it, McCarthy still has the inside track), we hope he heeds the warnings of Boehner’s failure.

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