House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has dropped out of the race to succeed Speaker John Boehner, a shocking move that throws the House into chaos.
The move came without warning as House Republicans were in a closed-door meeting to select their nominee for speaker, with McCarthy's wife and kids in the room. Boehner subsequently postponed the vote.
"I think I shocked some of you, huh?" McCarthy told reporters following the decision.
"If we're going to unite and be strong, we need a new face to do that," he said, adding that he did not want to win the race on the House floor with only enough votes to squeak by.
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McCarthy's candidacy ran into trouble last week after he suggested that the House's select committee on Benghazi was an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton's poll numbers.
Asked if that affected his decision, McCarthy acknowledged: "Well, that wasn't helpful."
"Because of his verbal blunder last week there were some of us that were very apprehensive and this going to create great unity among Republicans," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California. He described McCarthy's move as "courageous," saying this is "exciting" for the party because there is now a "wide open" race for speaker.
No successor in sight
Boehner is poised to resign at the end of the month and there is no clear successor who can unite the conference and win the post. An influential group of conservatives endorsed a long-shot candidate, Rep. Daniel Webster, on Wednesday, throwing McCarthy's ability to win the House floor vote later this month in doubt.
"I am not the one," McCarthy told the Republicans in the meeting, according to Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas.
There is a "brand new race for speaker," Huelskamp said, and criticized Boehner and the leadership for "stunts," that include announcing the resignation the day after Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
Members had no indication the move was coming. "Totally stunned," said Rep. Peter King, R-New York, on CNN.
The House Freedom Caucus entered a closed-door meeting before 1 p.m., Rep. Mick Mulvaney said on CNN, saying the group will review some possible candidates.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and someone who had been viewed as a contender for the job, immediately said he is not interested.
While I am grateful for the encouragement I've received, I will not be a candidate. I continue to believe I can best serve the country and this conference as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," Ryan said in a statement.
Check back for updates on this developing story.