McCarthy: "I regret that this has ever taken place"

After taking a public beating from Democrats and Republicans alike, there’s little doubt that Kevin McCarthy regrets his remarks about the Benghazi Select Committee’s impact on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The next Speaker of the House went to Fox News to express his contrition to Bret Baier, telling the news anchor that he had expressed his regret personally to Trey Gowdy, whose work McCarthy goes to great lengths to praise in this segment:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday that he regrets remarks he made about Hillary Clinton and the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

“This committee was set up for one sole purpose: to find the truth on behalf of the families for four dead Americans,” the California Republican said in an evening interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. “Now, I did not intend to imply in any way that that work is political. Of course it is not. Look at the way they have carried themselves out.” …

McCarthy said on Thursday evening that he had spoken to Gowdy and expressed the view that they have rightly conducted their work in an apolitical way. “No one questions Trey’s integrity or this committee. It was never my intention to ever imply that this committee was political, because we all know it is not,” he said, while acknowledging that he should have come out right after he made the remarks to clarify.

Give Baier credit for making McCarthy work in this interview. He takes a skeptical approach to McCarthy’s statements here, repeatedly presses him for an apology, and then stays on the issue of his bid to succeed John Boehner as Speaker. McCarthy tells Baier that he’s “very close” to locking up the necessary 218 votes, and that this won’t impact the leadership election, but Baier’s not quite buying it.

McCarthy’s probably right about that, though. Who else would want this job? Supposedly Gowdy got approached for it and took a pass, which makes a lot of sense, at least in this session. It’s a thankless job at the moment, and the same splits that made Boehner’s life a misery — not undeservedly in at least some cases — will give headaches to his successor, too.

That’s not to say that House conservatives will let this slide, though:

“It really concerned a lot of members. It plays right into Nancy Pelosi’s hands. It looks like a major mistake,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), chairman of the House Tea Party Caucus, which will join other conservative groups in interviewing candidates for Speaker on Tuesday.

“He didn’t gain any more votes by this and he doesn’t have 218. Did he lose votes over this? I don’t know,” Huelskamp added. “But I think it’s hurt his credibility within the Republican conference.” …

But some conservatives have been pushing the idea of a Speaker Gowdy if McCarthy stumbles. Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is extremely popular in the conference, could also probably get 218 votes, though neither man wants the job.

And that’s the real problem — no one who can win 218 votes wants the job other than McCarthy. Despite this 9-day-wonder of a public-relations tempest, McCarthy has worked well enough in the #2 slot in the House Republican caucus to move up, especially given the lack of realistic options. Conservatives will hold his feet to the fire to get more aggressive strategies for the rest of this session. If nothing else, this setback may force McCarthy to work harder to get their support.

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