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Rep. Charlie Dent: House Republicans 'Frankly Shocked' By McCarthy Decision


The Capitol was the scene of a dramatic surprise today. California Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, withdrew from the race for speaker. A couple of weeks ago, McCarthy, who is described as very popular among his colleagues, looked like a shoo-in to succeed John Boehner, who's retiring. But facing two weak challengers from the right wing of his party's conference in the House, he acknowledged that a vote for him as speaker would be hard for Republicans and said he didn't want to put them in that position. So where does that leave House Republicans? Now we're going to ask Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania. Welcome to the program.

CHARLIE DENT: Hey. Thank you for having me on the show. Great to be with you.

SIEGEL: First, what was it like this morning when Kevin McCarthy broke the news?

DENT: Well, I must say that everybody was quite a bit shocked because I believe everybody knew that Kevin McCarthy had a strong majority of Republican members voting for him for speaker today. I don't believe that he had 218 votes today, but he had - the question was, did he have somewhere between 180 and 210? He only needed 124 votes. So when he announced that he was not going to - that he was going to withdraw his name, I think everybody was frankly shocked.

And I suspect there was a reason why he did that, the reason being that he wasn't confident that he could get 218 Republican votes on the floor of the House of Representatives to support him. And rather than be embarrassed on the floor, I think he decided to withdraw his name.

SIEGEL: Did his gaff about the Benghazi committee do him in?

DENT: Well, it certainly didn't help matters. But I don't think that's what did him in today. I mean, it was pretty clear there were a group of members - some said as many as 50 - you know, who were not going to support him on the House floor. I don't know if that was accurate or not, but I think he only needs 29 votes on Republican side to prevent him from becoming the speaker. You know, you need the 247 Republicans. You need 218 votes. I think the math comes out to about 28, 29 - 28 or 29 votes. So yeah - so I think that the Benghazi comment clearly was not helpful.


DENT: But I don't think that was the determining factor.

SIEGEL: There's a Washington Post story today that John Boehner, the outgoing speaker, has personally asked Congressman Ryan - Paul Ryan, the chairman of House Ways and Means - to step up and be speaker regardless of his professed lack of interest in the position. The Post says they've spoken twice today by phone. Boehner's told him, you're the only guy who can get the majority. First of all, do you think that's plausible, and would you find it desirable?

DENT: Well, I agree with Speaker Boehner's assessment that Paul Ryan could receive 218 Republican votes on the floor of the House of Representatives for speaker. It is also true, as far as I know, that Paul Ryan is not interested in taking the position. He likes being chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

And if Paul Ryan, you know, declines this opportunity, well, then I suspect what will happen is - or what could happen is there's a scenario that, you know - we need to put the other bipartisan coalitions to pass any meaningful legislation. Just like last week, to keep the the government open, it was bipartisan coalition - same will happen on debt ceiling in the omnibus spending bill and - as well as the budget agreement. The same think could happen for speaker, where we may need to assemble a bipartisan coalition to elect the next speaker. I think that's a very real possibility.

SIEGEL: You think that Republicans would abide that, that...

DENT: We may have no choice. I mean, if we cannot get 218 Republican votes...


DENT: ...For one Republican, we will probably have to seek Democratic votes. Remember; there was a motion to vacate the chair...


DENT: ...To keep John Boehner...

SIEGEL: From opposing.

DENT: ...From keeping his position. And it was well understood that many Democrats were going to be approached about helping sustain John Boehner as speaker. So there's already been some movement in that direction.

SIEGEL: Congressman Dent, thanks for talking with us today.

DENT: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: That's Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, talking about today's big news in Congress that Kevin McCarthy has withdrawn from the race for speaker. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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