McCarthy leads scramble to fill top House jobs after Boehner

WASHINGTON (AP) – Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is assuring House Republicans he can bring them together, even as emboldened conservatives maneuver to yank their next leaders to the right in the wake of Speaker John Boehner’s sudden resignation.

As House lawmakers prepare to meet Tuesday evening to discuss their path forward, McCarthy is moving aggressively to lock up support to succeed Boehner. In morning TV interviews, he spoke of uniting House Republicans with "a new culture" that listens to all voices and yet has "the courage to lead in the end."

He made his candidacy official Monday in a letter to fellow lawmakers.

"If elected speaker, I promise you that we will have the courage to lead the fight for our conservative principles and make our case to the American people," wrote McCarthy. "But we will also have the wisdom to listen to our constituents and each other so that we always move forward together."

Asked about his policy priorities Tuesday on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," McCarthy spoke not of health care or abortion, issues that have left the party divided over strategy, but instead of fixing fundamentals of government: passing a six-year highway bill and embarking on a sweeping reorganization of federal agencies to eliminate duplication.

"I believe in fighting, but I believe in winning," McCarthy told CBS’ "This Morning," explaining why, although he opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood, he doesn’t want to shut the government down over the issue.

The battle to replace McCarthy as majority leader has quickly grown vigorous between two candidates: the No. 3 House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and the Budget Committee chairman, Tom Price of Georgia. A third, House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, opted out of the contest late Monday.

McCarthy said he would not single one out for his support.

As House Republicans prepare for their special closed-door meeting Tuesday evening, a question consuming the Capitol is what the House Freedom Caucus will do. The band of 30 or so hardline conservatives who drove Boehner out by threatening a floor vote on his speakership does not have the strength to field a candidate of its own. But they hope to exact commitments on hewing to conservative principles as Congress faces major battles on keeping the government running and avoiding a federal default – right in the middle of a presidential campaign.

"It doesn’t work just to change the leaders, you’ve got to actually talk about changing policy, you’ve got to talk about principles," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., one of the rebels. Of McCarthy he said: "He’s got to have a plan to restore trust, not just with us but with our voters."

Some of the more establishment-minded Republicans are disgusted with the Freedom Caucus crowd over their role in pushing Boehner out. They argue such behavior could hurt the party’s presidential chances and are warning against any further such antics when McCarthy’s election for speaker is held, once Boehner leaves Congress at the end of next month.

"If you’ve just threatened one speaker with this and then you turn around before he’s even done anything and threaten the next speaker with this, it’s pretty clear to everyone else in the conference the speaker’s not the problem – you’re the problem," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Boehner ally.

McCarthy, a Californian in his fifth term, has been endorsed by Boehner and is the heavy favorite. But he faces an opponent in Rep. Daniel Webster, a former speaker of the House in Florida who unsuccessfully challenged Boehner at the beginning of this year and has drawn some conservative support.

Boehner’s decision to step down rather than face a nearly unprecedented floor vote to depose him averted immediate crisis, as the Senate Monday approved legislation to keep the government running, and the House was scheduled to follow suit before a Thursday deadline. Despite conservatives’ demands, the bill will not cut off money for Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos focused on the group’s practice of providing fetal tissues for research.

But the bill merely extends the government funding deadline until Dec. 11, when another shutdown showdown will loom as conservatives make new demands on Boehner’s successor and on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

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Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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