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McCarthy running to replace Boehner as U.S. House speaker

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(Bloomberg) — U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he’s running to replace Speaker John Boehner, a position the five-term California congressman appears prepared to easily win.

Passing a six-year highway funding bill that changes the U.S. tax structure will be a top priority, McCarthy said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“If we pass a highway bill with tax reform at the same time, that’s policy,” McCarthy said.

Boehner’s surprise announcement on Friday that he’ll resign from Congress at the end of October followed years of conflict with conservative members of his Republican caucus. They threatened to shut down the government this week if Planned Parenthood, the women’s health provider whose services include abortion, isn’t defunded.

McCarthy is likely to win an election to replace Boehner, said House Republicans Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Tom Cole of Oklahoma on “Fox News Sunday.”

House Republicans plan to meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss how they’ll proceed.

If he becomes speaker, McCarthy would immediately face difficult issues on which members of his party are divided. They include raising the U.S. debt limit, increasing spending on highways and reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, all of which are opposed by conservative lawmakers.

Spending bill

He apparently won’t have to deal with a government shutdown when current funding ends Wednesday night. Boehner said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the House will pass a Senate spending bill, with the help of votes from Democrats, to keep the government operating without defunding Planned Parenthood.

Boehner also suggested on “Face the Nation” that he will seek to push through other top corporate priorities before departing at the end of October. “I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn,” he said on the program.

It’s unclear how McCarthy, a California state lottery winner who used his winnings to help bankroll a sandwich shop, would react if Boehner tries to push legislation opposed by conservative members through the House before leaving. McCarthy has said he opposes rechartering the Export-Import Bank, a top goal of business groups in Washington.

Avoiding a federal shutdown this week may be only a temporary victory, as the interim funding bill being considered by the Senate would expire Dec. 11. That raises the possibility of another shutdown battle in a little more than two months.

Planned Parenthood

A group of about 30 House conservatives have said they won’t support any spending bill that funds Planned Parenthood.

So far, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida — who got 12 votes in January against Boehner — is the only other announced candidate for speaker. He isn’t seen as a formidable challenger.

Webster said in an interview that “we need to transform the process here,” away from what he describes as a top-down approach to legislating.

“There has to be a change in order to get votes from people who want change,” Webster said.

About 80 House members who are part of conservative caucuses want to hear candidates for speaker describe how they’ll restore trust with disaffected Republicans, said Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

Leadership elections

McCarthy was part of the leadership team “that promised we’d get something done” and it “never delivered on opening up the House” to allow members to offer more amendments to legislation, Huelskamp told reporters.

Leadership elections are likely to be held in the next few weeks.

With McCarthy looking assured for the top job, conservatives plan to assert themselves in races for the second-and third-ranking Republican leadership posts. By taking those spots, they could temper any McCarthy tendencies toward accommodation and pull the Republican caucus rightward.

The race for the No. 2 job that would be vacated by McCarthy is shaping up to be a competitive battle.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas decided not to seek a leadership position and will support Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia for majority leader, his spokeswoman Sarah Rozier said in an e-mail. Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan also endorsed Price for the No. 2 job on Monday.

Defense spending

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, now the Republican whip, No. 3 in the leadership, announced Tuesday he wants McCarthy’s current job.

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The No. 4 Republican, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, will remain in her position instead of seeking McCarthy’s job, her spokesman, Nate Hodson, said in an e-mail.

Price’s candidacy could trigger an intraparty fight over higher defense spending, which he has opposed without offsetting cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida has told colleagues he’ll seek to become whip. Ross, in a statement, pledged to bring bills to a vote within 90 days on a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) alternative, immigration reform and overhauling the tax code.

Other possible whip candidates include Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, currently Scalise’s top deputy; Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas.

—With assistance from Cheyenne Hopkins in Washington.