WASHINGTON — GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah announced Sunday that he is running for House speaker in a longshot challenge to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, adding a new dose of turmoil for reeling House Republicans.
Chaffetz, 48, chairman of the high-profile House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said voters and the public want Republicans to fight, and the current House leaders don't deserve an automatic promotion.
"I can bridge that divide between our more centrist members and some of the more far right wing members. That's why I've entered this race," Chaffetz told "Fox News Sunday."
Chaffetz's candidacy, which took most lawmakers by surprise when news began to emerge Friday, underscores chaos in the House little more than a week after Speaker John Boehner's surprise resignation under pressure from hard-line conservatives
Chaffetz acknowledged that McCarthy, the No. 2 leader, already has the support of a majority of House Republicans, making Boehner's deputy the likely winner in secret-ballot elections set for Thursday.
But under House rules, that outcome does not guarantee that McCarthy would become speaker. He also has to win a public vote of the full House later this month. That outcome is less certain because of potential opposition to McCarthy from the same 30-plus hard-line conservatives who pushed Boehner out.
There are 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House.
Chaffetz asserted that McCarthy cannot win on the floor following a gaffe in which McCarthy suggested the purpose of the House's Benghazi committee is to drive down Hillary Rodham Clinton's poll numbers.
McCarthy has retracted the comment and said he regrets it, but it's given a potent weapon to Democrats against the committee ahead of a high-profile appearance by Clinton set for Oct. 22.
McCarthy's spokesman declined comment on Chaffetz's announcement.
Chaffetz has led high-profile investigations of the Secret Service and Planned Parenthood, but a recent hearing on Planned Parenthood drew criticism for failing to produce a clear win for the GOP. And it's not clear that the same conservatives who rejected Boehner and McCarthy will embrace Chaffetz instead.