This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Washington • A conservative bloc of House members dealt a significant blow to Rep. Jason Chaffetz's bid for speaker on Wednesday by endorsing Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida for the top job.
But the House Freedom Caucus' move which may lead to a group vote for Webster on the floor still plays into the concern that Chaffetz, R-Utah, laid out when he announced his long-shot bid: that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy won't be able to get a majority of the House's votes on Oct. 29 because of opposition from the party's right flank.
House Republicans meet Thursday to select their nominee, and the full House votes on Oct. 29, the day before Speaker John Boehner is set to resign. The Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 conservative House members, could roil the speaker vote, which requires a majority of members present 218 if all 435 members are there. If it affects the vote significantly, the move could leave the body facing multiple ballots.
Chaffetz had been counting on some members of the Freedom Caucus to swing his way, but he said he wasn't surprised by the group's decision. He said the outcome proves that he is the candidate not beholden to either the right wing or the establishment.
"I'm trying to bridge the divide; that's the whole point of what I'm trying to do, is figure out how we get this divided group to unite behind somebody and start fighting Democrats instead of each other," Chaffetz said in an interview after the Freedom Caucus' intentions became public.
Chaffetz noted that he will support whoever becomes the GOP conference's nominee for speaker and will stop campaigning for the job but he reiterated that if McCarthy is the nominee, he still can't win majority support in the Oct. 29 floor vote.
House Republicans hold 247 seats to Democrats' 188. If the Freedom Caucus' members vote for Webster and Democrats vote for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as expected, McCarthy won't be able to muster a majority.
Meanwhile Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch was critical of Chaffetz's bid, telling Politico that his entrance into the race increases the chances of "chaos" this fall with congressional action and that the Utah congressman is viewed as too inexperienced for the top job.
Hatch, the Senate president pro tempore, told the news outlet that Chaffetz has the right to run for the seat but that it could hurt the House in the end.
Chaffetz's bid "may prevent McCarthy from getting [sufficient support]," Hatch said, "which is in my view a pretty bad thing. The more the House stays in chaos, the worse it will be."
Hatch, a 38-year Senate veteran, also noted that Chaffetz's relative inexperience could become an issue in the race; Chaffetz is in his fourth term, McCarthy is in his fifth.
"What will be held against him by some is [the fact that] he has only been in Congress for a short period of time and may or may not have built up enough cachet to be the speaker," Hatch told Politico.
Hatch spokesman J.P. Freire later attempted to clarify Hatch's comments, saying that the senator's primary concern was for the House to promptly select a new speaker and get back to legislating.
"While the senator has repeatedly noted the benefits of a speaker from Utah, he thinks it would be inappropriate to endorse any candidate in the race for speaker, given that it's a matter rightly left to the discretion of House members alone," Freire said. "Sen. Hatch considers all of the candidates to be friends and valued legislative partners and looks forward to continuing to work with each of them, no matter the outcome of this contest."
Chaffetz responded to Hatch's original comments by saying that he views competition for the speaker job "vital."
"I have a lot of suggestions for the United States Senate, but I'll keep them to myself for now," Chaffetz added.
Hatch's comments contrast with his Senate colleague from Utah, Mike Lee, who praised Chaffetz's political acumen to The New York Times.
"Anyone who underestimates his ability does so at their own peril," Lee told The Times. Chaffetz and Lee served together in the administration of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Chaffetz as chief of staff and Lee as counsel.
Chaffetz's bid earned another public supporter Wednesday as Rep. Mia Love joined her Utah colleague Chris Stewart. The two are the only members to say they will vote for Chaffetz.
"With my vote for speaker of the House, I am putting Utah first," Love said in a statement. "My priority is to vote on behalf of the 4th District. That is why I plan to support Rep. Jason Chaffetz, because I believe he will bring a powerful Utah voice to Washington."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is publicly neutral.
Also Wednesday, a new poll showed that Americans don't know McCarthy and those who do don't have a favorable opinion of him.
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, said a survey found half of voters have no opinion of McCarthy while 12 percent see him favorably and 38 percent have a negative opinion of him.