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WASHINGTON (AP) – Divided House Republicans are searching for a way forward amid conservative fears that a new set of leaders might not be much different from the old.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is moving quickly to consolidate support to move into Congress’ top job following the surprise resignation of Speaker John Boehner. On Tuesday, McCarthy told reporters: “We want to make sure that we’re closer to the people, that they feel this is their government, they’re in charge and we serve them.”
McCarthy has been endorsed by Boehner, and faces little opposition. The contest to replace him as majority leader also features established congressional leaders: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia.
That’s led some conservatives on Capitol Hill and off to grouse that at a moment when House Republicans should be charting a new course, they’re rushing to put a different set of faces on the same set of problems.
“We are electing the individual who is second in line to be the president of the United States after the vice president,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a member of the hardline Freedom Caucus. “That is a very important decision that could have tremendous effects on the direction of our country and to do it speedily in only seven to 14 days is not doing justice to the importance of the issue.”
The discontent surfaced Tuesday in a short-lived campaign to draft Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the special panel investigating the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attacks, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Several conservatives expressed excitement about a Gowdy candidacy for majority leader or even speaker, but late in the day Gowdy ruled it out, saying he wanted to focus on the Benghazi committee. “I’ve never run for any leadership job,” he said.
That left hardline conservatives still without a candidate for the upper ranks of leadership. But thus far they’ve stopped short of running a candidate of their own, acknowledging they might be likely to fall short given resentment among many establishment-minded lawmakers toward the tea party crowd.
“One of us would probably be the longest of long shots,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. “And so our hope is to work with someone that can actually win that can accomplish the agenda that we talked about.”
Amid the maneuvering House Republicans held an unusual members-only meeting Tuesday evening aimed at charting a path forward, though lawmakers said little concrete progress was made after some 30 to 40 members took turns at the microphones airing grievances and urging unity and communication.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., called it a “good therapy session. There’s a lot of healing going on.”
“Right now we’re a little bit of a mess,” said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
Lawmakers aired frustration at their inability to satisfy fed-up voters who want aggressive action against President Barack Obama and the Democrats, and who blame GOP leaders when Senate Democrats and the president himself foil Republican plans. Many are embittered after years of Congress lurching from crisis to crisis, repeatedly getting the bare minimum done at the last possible minute.
Yet there’s no unanimity on a solution — if a solution exists — even though the GOP’s White House hopes may depend on one.
On Wednesday, both the House and the Senate are expected to act on a short-term spending bill to keep the government running until Dec. 11. It doesn’t cut off funding for Planned Parenthood as demanded by conservatives, one of the issues that precipitated Boehner’s exit.
That means come December, more brinkmanship and another shutdown showdown loom all over again.
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