WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans have plunged into a chaotic leadership scramble as emboldened conservatives maneuver to yank their next leaders to the right in the wake of Speaker John Boehner's sudden resignation.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is moving aggressively to lock up support to succeed Boehner after making his candidacy official in a letter to fellow lawmakers.
"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," wrote McCarthy. "But we will also have the wisdom to listen to our constituents and each other so that we always move forward together."
And the battle to replace McCarthy as majority leader has quickly grown vigorous between two candidates: the No. 3 House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and the Budget Committee chairman, Tom Price of Georgia. A third, House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, opted out of the contest late Monday.
As House Republicans prepared for a special closed-door meeting Tuesday evening to discuss their path forward, a question consuming the Capitol is what the House Freedom Caucus will do. The band of 30 or so hardline conservatives who drove Boehner out by threatening a floor vote on his speakership does not have the strength to field a candidate of its own. But they hope to exact commitments on hewing to conservative principles as Congress faces major battles on keeping the government running and avoiding a federal default — right in the middle of a presidential campaign.
"It doesn't work just to change the leaders, you've got to actually talk about changing policy, you've got to talk about principles," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., one of the rebels. Of McCarthy he said: "He's got to have a plan to restore trust, not just with us but with our voters."
Some of the more establishment-minded Republicans are disgusted with the Freedom Caucus crowd over their role in pushing Boehner out. They argue such behavior could hurt the party's presidential chances and are warning against any further such antics when McCarthy's election for speaker is held, once Boehner leaves Congress at the end of next month.
"If you've just threatened one speaker with this and then you turn around before he's even done anything and threaten the next speaker with this, it's pretty clear to everyone else in the conference the speaker's not the problem — you're the problem," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Boehner ally.
McCarthy, a Californian in his fifth term, has been endorsed by Boehner and is the heavy favorite. But he faces an opponent in Rep. Daniel Webster, a former speaker of the House in Florida who unsuccessfully challenged Boehner at the beginning of this year and has drawn some conservative support.
Boehner's decision to step down rather than face a nearly unprecedented floor vote to depose him averted immediate crisis, as the Senate Monday approved 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 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 Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.