House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is giving House Speaker John Boehner a B-minus grade as he seeks conservative support to replace him.
McCarthy also says the House's Benghazi investigation committee can take credit for Hillary Clinton's dropping poll numbers — seemingly contradicting GOP claims that the committee is aimed simply at uncovering the truth.
McCarthy made both comments on conservative host Sean Hannity's show on Fox News Channel. They came as the California Republican works to consolidate support to move into Congress' top job following Boehner's surprise resignation on Friday under tea party pressure.
Boehner announced Wednesday that the elections will be held Oct. 8.
But conservatives are dissatisfied with their choices for the top jobs, leading to a short-lived movement Tuesday to draft the respected chairman of the Benghazi committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to run for majority leader.
Boehner himself encouraged Gowdy to do so, meeting privately with him Tuesday morning to urge him to consider it, according to a Republican aide who demanded anonymity to disclose the private discussion.
But the appeal was apparently unsuccessful, as late in the day Tuesday Gowdy took himself out of the running. Boehner's office declined comment.
McCarthy and Boehner are allies, and Boehner has endorsed McCarthy to replace him. McCarthy is the clear front-runner for the job of speaker and faces little opposition for now. But some of the same conservatives who pushed Boehner out command enough votes to block his ascent. Aiming to win them over, McCarthy is working to distance himself from Boehner and ingratiate himself with hardliners in his party.
"What you're going to see is a conservative speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win," McCarthy said in describing how he'd differ from Boehner. Asked to grade the speaker he suggested a B-minus. Hannity disagreed and offered a D-minus.
McCarthy went on to discuss the special House committee investigating the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans while Clinton, now a Democratic candidate for president, was secretary of state.
"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" McCarthy said. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened."
Those comments drew a swift and angry response from Democrats.
"This stunning concession from Rep. McCarthy reveals the truth that Republicans never dared admit in public: the core Republican goal in establishing the Benghazi Committee was always to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and never to conduct an even-handed search for the facts," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the committee.
The contest to replace McCarthy as majority leader also features established congressional leaders: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price of Georgia.
That's led some conservatives on Capitol Hill and off to grouse that at a moment when House Republicans should be charting a new course, they're rushing to put a different set of faces on the same set of problems. The discontent surfaced Tuesday in the campaign to draft Gowdy. In demurring Gowdy said he wanted to focus on the Benghazi committee and said: "I've never run for any leadership job."
Amid the maneuvering House Republicans held an unusual members-only meeting Tuesday evening aimed at charting a path forward, though lawmakers said little concrete progress was made after some 30 to 40 members took turns at the microphones airing grievances and urging unity and communication.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., called it a "good therapy session. There's a lot of healing going on."
"Right now we're a little bit of a mess," said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.