House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stunned Washington Thursday by dropping his bid to become speaker of the House.
The California Republican's withdrawal, less than a week after announcing his intention to seek the position, increases the turmoil of a House leadership that has been under increasing fire since Speaker John Boehner of Ohio announced his retirement last month.
McCarthy was thought by many to be the favorite to succeed Boehner.
However, McCarthy faced immediate backlash from the GOP conservative factions who have long charged that Boehner was not doing enough to advance the party’s core values.
McCarthy addressed the opposition to the House’s current leadership in a press conference Thursday announcing his withdrawal.
“The thing I have always said to earn this majority
we are servants and we should put this Congress first. And I think there is something to be said for us to unite, we probably need a fresh face,” McCarthy said. “I’ll stay on as majority leader but the one thing I found in talking to everybody
if we are going to unite and be strong we need a new face to help do that. So nothing more than that. I feel good about the decision."
Criticism of McCarthy was heightened after Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton seized on comments he made in reference to the Benghazi Committee hearings. In a television interview last week, McCarthy tied the hearings to Clinton's drop in polling. Many observers, including Republicans, saw those comments as an implication that the hearings were politically motivated.
McCarthy tried to tamp down that controversy and admitted his choice of words could have been better in a press conference Wednesday.
McCarthy admitted the misstatements were part of the reason he was setting aside his campaign for speaker in his announcement Thursday.
“That wasn’t helpful. I could have said it much better,” McCarthy said. “But this Benghazi Committee was only created for one purpose: to find the truth on behalf of the families of the four dead Americans. I should not be a distraction from that and that is part of the decision as well.”
The biggest opponents of the current House leadership have resided in the Tea Party-based House Freedom Caucus.
House Freedom Caucus members appear to be redoubling their efforts to promote a leader more to their liking.
“The Republican-controlled House of Representatives needs to be led by a principled conservative leader,” House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Scott DesJarlais said. “I will continue to work to ensure that happens.”
House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Barry Loudermilk was supportive of McCarthy in his remarks.
"Kevin McCarthy has been a very inclusive and transactional majority leader, and I have no doubt that will continue,” Loudermilk said in a statement. “I appreciate his dedicated service to our party, the House and our nation. I look forward to working with the leader and our colleagues as we seek and elect a speaker who can unite our conference to tackle the vital issues facing our country.”