WASHINGTON - Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leading candidate to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives, voiced sharp disagreement with President Barack Obama on Monday on foreign policy issues from Ukraine to Iran.
McCarthy was strongly critical of the Democratic president in a speech that could increase his appeal to hard-line conservatives who sought to oust the current speaker, John Boehner, who abruptly announced his resignation on Friday.
“The absence of leadership over the past six years has had horrific consequences all across the globe, and it is getting worse day by day,” McCarthy said in a speech to the John Hay Initiative, an organization of Republican foreign policy veterans.
McCarthy, 50, currently the number two House Republican as majority leader, has emerged as the most likely candidate to succeed Boehner as speaker.
In the speech, McCarthy provided a list of foreign policy suggestions that largely conflicted with Obama administration policies.
There has been little common ground between congressional Republicans and Obama on foreign policy during Obama’s tenure in office, and McCarthy’s comments made clear that was unlikely to change if he were to become speaker.
McCarthy said the United States should provide lethal aid to Ukraine as it faces Russian aggression and target Russia’s Gazprom energy company, spelled out strong opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran and called for tougher sanctions, and backed measures to deal with the crisis in Syria, including a no-fly zone in northern Syria and tougher measures against Islamic State militants.
“We must wage this war against radical Islam as if our life depended on it, because it does,” McCarthy said.
A chaotic scramble is meanwhile on to fill the top Republican jobs in the U.S. House of Representatives after Boehner’s surprise resignation as its speaker. The same conservatives who pushed him out are maneuvering to yank the next leadership team to the right.
The frenzied action under the Capitol Dome will help determine how Congress contends with upcoming battles on keeping the government running and avoiding a federal default — and whether Republicans can take back the White House next year.
Boehner’s announcement he was leaving one of the most powerful jobs in Washington— he is second in line to succeed the president — shocked nearly everyone, opening a rare chance for ambitious lawmakers to climb the congressional ladder and for competing factions to exert new sway as an anti-establishment fever sweeps Republican politics.
The front-runner for the speaker’s job, McCarthy, made his candidacy official later Monday in a letter to fellow Republican lawmakers in which he pledged to fight for conservative principles and listen to all members — something Boehner was accused of failing to do.
“If elected speaker, I promise you that we will have the courage to lead the fight for our conservative principles and make our case to the American people,” McCarthy wrote. “But we will also have the wisdom to listen to our constituents and each other so that we always move forward together.”
McCarthy, a Californian in his fifth two-year term, has been endorsed by Boehner. But he faces an opponent in Rep. Daniel Webster, a former speaker of the House in the state of Florida who unsuccessfully challenged Boehner at the beginning of this year and has drawn some conservative support. “I would like to have a principle-based member-driven Congress,” Webster said in an interview.
And McCarthy’s likely ascent leaves the race for majority leader wide open. It’s already turned into at least a three-way contest with the No. 3 and No. 4 House Republicans, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, aggressively pursuing the job, along with the Budget Committee chairman, Tom Price of Georgia.
All are jockeying to lock down support as the Capitol swirls in chatter about endorsements.
The House’s tea partyers, some three dozen strong, aren’t fielding a candidate. But they want to see leaders who will take the fight to Obama and the Democrats, not compromise with them as the realities of divided government led Boehner to do. Some of them question whether McCarthy, who’s seen more as a political operator than an ideologue, would deliver that new approach.
Boehner’s decision to step down rather than face a nearly unprecedented floor vote to depose him averted immediate crisis, as the Senate was to vote Monday on legislation to keep the government running, and the House was scheduled to follow suit before a Thursday deadline. Despite conservatives’ demands, the bill will not cut off money for women’s health care provider Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos focused on the group’s practice of providing fetal tissues for research.
But the bill merely extends the government funding deadline until Dec. 11, when another shutdown showdown will loom as conservatives make new demands on Boehner’s successor and on Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell