With McCarthy Out, Who's Next?

by Leigh Ann Caldwell /  / Updated 

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s abrupt exit from the House speaker's race just minutes before the Republican caucus was set to vote has left GOP lawmakers in a mad scramble to figure out what’s next. In the immediate aftermath, no one seems to know what will happen next as the shock still permeates the corridors of Congress.

While Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida received the support of the conservative Freedom Caucus, a group of three dozen conservative members, he doesn’t have enough support from the remaining Republican members. And neither does Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, another member who announced he was running for the top spot.

So what happens next?

House Republicans aren’t quite sure. No one really is. There is a lot of speculation but not a lot of clarity.

These scenarios are within the realm of possibilities:

Speaker Boehner Part Two: Current Speaker John Boehner, whose announcement he would resign at the end of this month led to the need for a new speaker, stays in the chair for the rest of the session, which runs through December of 2016.

After McCarthy’s announcement, Boehner released a statement saying he “will serve as speaker until the House votes to elect a new Speaker.” But internal disagreement over critical budget deadlines could lead to a government shutdown, and Boehner has little appetite to be the person blamed for yet another shutdown during his tenure.

A Caretaker: If Republicans are unable to decide on a new speaker, they could negotiate a temporary placeholder who agrees to serve until a more permanent replacement is chosen.

Options could be a Republican who has already announced retirement at the end of the session or someone who is has no desire for the position but is willing to step up to help the party out.

An Outsider: The Speaker of the House does not need to be an elected member of congress. Yes, Donald Trump could be elected speaker. If Republicans can’t agree on one of their own, they could legally turn to someone on the outside.

The Consensus: Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois said on MSNBC Thursday that the next speaker “has to be a consensus choice.”

The highly fractious Republicans, who don’t agree on much, could come together and agree on the person to lead. But with no leader currently in place, the process of coming to a consensus candidate promises to be messy.

A Bipartisan Speaker: If Republicans can’t agree, they could put forward a person who receives a majority of support among GOP members and then relies on Democrats to join them when the vote for speaker comes before the full House. (This is the least likely scenario.)

Out of all those scenarios, here are just of the some potential candidates:

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin: Ryan has the respect of the tea party faction as well as the moderate sect of the party. NBC News confirmed that Ryan is Boehner's top choice to become speaker. The 2012 vice presidential nominee has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be speaker and reiterated that after McCarthy's announcement. But his name will continue to be front and center in the near future at least.

Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina: Gowdy was elected with Tea Party support and has lived up to those conservative credentials while in Congress. Gowdy chairs the high-profile House select committee on Benghazi. He also is liked by many of the more moderate members of the party and was recruited to run for the spot but declined. His downfall is his relative lack of experience. He’s only been in Congress since 2011.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma: He is one of Boehner’s friends and is ready to defend Boehner at any moment in the press or to fellow Republicans. He is also a member of leadership. But conservatives don’t want another Boehner, whom they successfully forced out.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee: Blackburn is a member of leadership and the election of a woman would look good for Republicans whose caucus is predominantly male. Conservatives tend to find her sufficiently conservative.

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana: He, too, is a member of Boehner’s leadership team which is looked down upon by many of the most conservative members of the House. Scalise has hoped to be majority leader after McCarthy’s election to speaker. Those plans are now in the air.

Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois: The National Review seems to think that Roskam was quietly plotting a return to leadership and perhaps speaker. While not a member of the Freedom Conference he has been working closely with them recently.

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