Rep. Steve Pearce was sitting in the front row of a House Republican caucus meeting on Thursday afternoon preparing to endorse little-known Rep. Daniel Webster for Speaker of the House when front-runner Kevin McCarthy dropped a bombshell.
McCarthy, the House majority leader, suddenly dropped out of the race.
“I was amazed,” Pearce told me in a telephone conversation this afternoon, while calling McCarthy’s decision “gracious” and “noble.” “I was going to give a speech for Mr. Webster…and a meeting that was going to last a couple of hours lasted 10 minutes.”
Republicans abruptly adjourned the meeting shortly after McCarthy’s announcement leaving the caucus in disarray as it seeks to unite hard-line conservatives such as Pearce with more moderate Republicans who were supporting McCarthy’s bid. House Speaker John Boehner announced earlier this month that he would resign, fed up with trying to corral an oft-divided caucus.
Webster, a Florida Republican, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, are the only other two announced candidates for the Speaker post. Pearce said he preferred Webster to McCarthy because he has served as Speaker of the House in the Florida legislature, and McCarthy is relatively new to leadership.
“I have nothing against Mr. McCarthy but if he moved up that would guarantee that all of the leadership would be destabilized with people who are brand new in their jobs, and for an organization that is very risky,” Pearce said. “Mr. Webster has been a speaker before …as Speaker of the House in the state of Florida he was able to push the responsibility for decision-making down to the lowest level instead of coming from the top. One of the beefs people have currently is everything comes from the top down.
“They (in Florida) were able to override vetos from Democratic governor that were contrary to what they all were agreeing they wanted,” Pearce added.
Pearce, a member of the tea-party backed Freedom Caucus that endorsed Webster, said the Florida Republican is not a member of the caucus, nor all that conservative.
“As the Freedom Caucus endorsed him one of the complaints was that he was not that conservative and his votes don’t align with ours very much,” Pearce said. “But I’ve gotten to know him over the last few years and I have a high appreciation for his values.”
A New York Times article today painted Webster as more conservative than Pearce did:
“Mr. Webster, 66, who received an engineering degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, was elected in 2010, when the Tea Party was sweeping many Republican districts. He shares many conservative values with members of the Freedom Caucus.
He is also a Baptist Christian who opposes abortion in all circumstances and who, as a state senator in 2005, sought to advance legislation that would have kept alive Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who was at the center of a bitter dispute over end-of-life care.
Mr. Webster, who represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of Orlando and Lake and Polk Counties, is also an advocate of home schooling.”
Pearce also disputed the notion that far right conservatives are to blame for disarray in the House GOP.
“We tried to fix the problem when we had a manager having difficulties,” Pearce said, referring to Boehner and those – including himself – who had tried to compel him to be a more forceful voice for conservatives. “The people who would argue that are completely dismissing the instability that would have occurred with this whole (exisiting) management team moving up a slot.”
Pearce said the Freedom Caucus – about 40 conservatives – remains firmly behind Webster.
“But If nobody can get to 218 (votes needed to secure the speakership) we’ll have to sit around the table and start discussing it,” Pearce said.