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Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he's talked to half the 247 House Republicans in his bid for speaker and persuaded some to swing his way but he's not asking any of them to publicly endorse his bid.
The Utah Republican hopes, he says, that enough members will see that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., doesn't have support to win the job being vacated by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and that they will look for an alternative.
"At some point, there'll be a realization that if we don't inject new blood into the leadership team, our constituents are going to be irate, at best," Chaffetz told reporters Monday, a day after he officially entered the race for speaker. "There's a massive drumbeat out there [from voters] that the status quo is not what we sent you there to perpetuate."
Chaffetz's strategy is clear: Sway enough Republicans to support him during their closed-door meeting Thursday, when they'll decide their nominee for speaker, or, failing that, hope that later this month, when the clerk starts the roll call to elect the House leader, enough colleagues will see that McCarthy can't win the needed 218 votes and coalesce around Chaffetz.
Chaffetz says if he's not the GOP caucus choice, he would support the nominee, and that he would stop campaigning for the job, but there could very well continue to be momentum for his candidacy until the floor vote Oct. 29.
The Utahn said he doesn't have a formal count of supporters, and he doesn't expect his backers to issue statements or run to reporters to declare they're voting for him.
"Why should I ask somebody to go out on a limb like that?" Chaffetz asked. But he noted that he has turned some McCarthy supporters his way and more will join. He said he's finding a groundswell of members who are happy there's someone else in the race even if Chaffetz wasn't their first choice.
"It's not as if this group has been chanting 'Chaffetz, Chaffetz,' " the four-term congressman said. "I get that."
So far, no members have publicly said they're in the Chaffetz camp, including his own Utah colleagues who are, so far, staying mum.
"Jason Chaffetz has a unique set of political skills that would make a terrific speaker, and wouldn't it be amazing to have someone from Utah?" Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Monday, declining to reveal if he would vote for Chaffetz.
Rep. Mia Love, also R-Utah, said she hasn't decided on the speaker's race but would listen to Chaffetz and McCarthy and anyone else who decides to run.
Nevertheless, she said she was "pleased" Chaffetz has jumped in. "I greatly admire his leadership skills, and his service to our state."
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., whom Chaffetz briefly ousted from his subcommittee chairmanship after he voted for another speaker candidate previously challenging Boehner, said Monday he hasn't endorsed anyone in the race but Chaffetz's actions against him would "not be a factor" in his decision.
"I look forward to hearing Chairman Chaffetz articulate his plan for the conference," Meadows said. "Mr. Chaffetz and I share both a good friendship and working relationship. I look forward to hearing from him and other candidates in the coming days."
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., is the only other candidate in the race.
Though Chaffetz is a long shot for speaker he acknowledges McCarthy has the most support in the GOP caucus the Utahn's bid is garnering plenty of interest in Washington.
More than 30 reporters jockeyed to get a question to Chaffetz during a briefing with the congressman Monday. News cameras were set up inside the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee room, awaiting the chance to interview Chaffetz.
Halfway through the session, Chaffetz's Apple Watch pinged.
"Finally these members are calling me back," Chaffetz joked.
The congressman said he informed McCarthy in person Friday that he was going to run for speaker. The two have been close allies since Chaffetz's election to Congress in 2008. Earlier this year, Chaffetz spoke at a California fundraiser for McCarthy. The majority leader was taken aback, Chaffetz said.
"He wasn't too happy," the congressman said. But Chaffetz added that he doesn't fear retribution, and he doesn't expect to lose his committee chairmanship.
"I just got a colonoscopy from the Secret Service and the worst they could come up with is I wanted to be one of them," Chaffetz said when asked if he worried about a backlash from McCarthy. He was referring to the disclosure that dozens of Secret Service agents accessed and read his rejected 2003 application to join the agency.
Chaffetz also revealed something of his approach to the speaker's post when he criticized the comments of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that he would avoid using the prospect of a government shutdown as a negotiating tactic to defund Planned Parenthood.
"He's absolutely flat-out wrong," Chaffetz said. "I'm not giving up on anything there. … I am not going to lose any negotiating power and admit defeat before we started."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted later that it was "sad" that House Republicans were running for speaker "on a platform of threatening default and shutting down the government."