Jason Chaffetz Running For House Speaker: I Can "Bridge The Divide"


Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee and Republican first elected from Utah in 2008, announces he is challenging Kevin McCarthy for Speaker of the House on Fox News Sunday. He says he can "bridge that divide between our more centrist members and some of our more far right wing members."

"Internally, I think we have to bridge the divide. I've been recruited. I didn't just wake up last week and think I was going to run for Speaker. But I've had enough members say, 'Please, Jason, do this. We don't want to fight internally, but realistically, we can not vote to promote existing leadership.' So that internal factor is there and I think will continue to the floor of the House."

Full transcript: REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Thanks for having me.

WALLACE: Just five days ago, you said you supported Kevin McCarthy for speaker, and it was widely assumed that as majority leader, the number two position in the GOP caucus, that he would move up when John Boehner moved out. Why are you even considering the idea of running against McCarthy?

CHAFFETZ: Kevin McCarthy is a good man. He’s a big reason why we have such a solid majority.

But things have changed and there's really a math problem. You need 218 votes on the floor of the House. There's 246 Republicans that will vote, but there are nearly 50 people and a growing number that will not and cannot vote for Kevin McCarthy as the speaker on the floor. He’s going to fall short of the 218 votes on the floor of House.

WALLACE: So, what are you going to do? Are you going to put your name forward when the House caucus votes on Thursday?

CHAFFETZ: Today, here, I am announcing my intention to run for speaker of the House of Representatives. We were entrusted by the American people with the largest majority the Republicans have ever had since Babe Ruth was swinging the baseball bat.

But they didn't send us here to perpetuate the status quo. They want us to tackle the tough issues. They don’t want us to fight. They want us -- they want us to fight -- they want us to take that fight to the Senate. They want us to take that fight to the president, and they want us to take that fight to the American people.

WALLACE: So, before we get into some of the substance, I want to ask about the procedural issue, because it is complicated. First, there's a vote in the House GOP Caucus on Thursday. Then, there’s going to be the full vote at the end of the month.

Do you pledge to support whoever wins the vote in the House Caucus on Thursday, or even if you lose, will you take your candidacy to the full floor at the end of the month?

CHAFFETZ: Again, I think Mr. McCarthy has the majority of the conference, and we're going to have that vote on Thursday. But in many ways it doesn't matter because the real vote is when you call that name out in front of everybody on the floor of the House. So, the vote on Thursday is closed door, secret ballot, I will support the nominee.

But I just don't believe that the nominee, if it's Kevin McCarthy can actually get to 218. That's why I’ve offer myself as a candidate to try to bridge that divide. I think those 50-plus people find I’m a fair, even-balanced person, that I can bridge that divide between -- there are more centrist members and some of the more far right-wing members. That’s why I’ve entered this race.

WALLACE: So, basically, you're saying you will continue your candidacy until the full vote of the House at the end of the month.

CHAFFETZ: What I’m saying is, if we walk out of there, and I want to win, I hope I win, but there's no doubt that Kevin McCarthy have the majority of the people in our conference that do support him. They like him. They --


WALLACE: Are you saying you’re going to --

CHAFFETZ: I will walk out of the there and support the nominee. I hope it’s me. I’m trying to fight for that. But if it's Kevin McCarthy, I will support him, but he still has a math problem. It still can't get to 218.

And I hope we can avoid those problems, bridge the gap, turn the fight -- instead of internally -- turn that fight to the Democrats and fight for the things that we all came to Congress for.

WALLACE: Why do you think 50-plus and whatever and the more hard-line conservatives won't vote for McCarthy but would vote for you?

CHAFFETZ: I think the American public wants to see a change. They want a fresh start.

There's a reason why we see this phenomenon across the country, and you don't just give an automatic promotion to the existing leadership team. That doesn't signal change. I think they want a fresh face and fresh new person who is actually there at the leadership table in the speaker's role.

You've got to speak, you've got to be able to articulate the Republican message to the American people and take that fight to the president, but you also have to bridge internally. And that's where we've got some conflict going on right now.

WALLACE: How do you explain in what do you mean, that you would bring the internal conflicts better than McCarthy?

CHAFFETZ: I do. I think -- well, he's been in existing leadership for years and years. And the strife and the divide is getting worse. It’s not getting better.

And so, what I’m trying to offer is we need internal process reform and how we select the committees, who the committee are, bringing more votes to the floor.

I don't expect, Chris that every vote we bring to the floor we win. I want to vote more, not less. I want these things to be prebaked. I want the committees to be more empowered, and I think that's what our broke membership wants on the full political spectrum.

WALLACE: So, what are you saying basically, that you would be more amenable, more friendlier to the hard-line conservatives, the freedom caucus, the Tea Party people than Kevin McCarthy? That’s one question. And the second one, how could -- would you be any more effective than McCarthy, given the fact that you're still going to have President Obama, you’re still going to have enough Democrats in the Senate to lead -- to sustain a filibuster, so how are you going to be any more effective in taking them on?

CHAFFETZ: Well, look, internally, I do think we have to bridge the divide. And you have to -- I’m being recruited. I didn't just -- you know, I didn’t wake up last week and think I’m going to be speaker. But I’ve had enough members who’ve come and said, please, Jason, do this.

We don’t want to fight internally. But realistically, we can't vote to promote the existing leadership.

So, that internal factor is there, and I think will continue to the floor of the House when that vote actually happens. And I think a new fresh face who says, look, how are we going to -- how are we going to hold the line for the full political spectrum, what are we going to fight for? I am not there to promote the status quo. I am not there to do what Mitch McConnell or the president wants to do. That’s not what we were elected to do.

WALLACE: All right. Let’s do a lightning round. Quick questions, quick answers on some of the specific issues that you would if you become speaker.

President Obama announced on Friday that he will not sign another short-term spending bill when the continuing resolution runs out in December. Would you be willing to risk a shutdown to defund Planned Parenthood?

CHAFFETZ: Well, look, we're going to have that discussion internally. We’re -- my job is to help put a bill on the president's desk. The president's solution is to just borrow more money from China? That's not a solution. I want to solve this problem.

So, unless we're actually solving the problem, I have a hard time putting anything over there onto the president's desk that doesn't also solve the problem. I want to solve the problem.

WALLACE: Respectfully, because you're maybe the next speaker, would you -- how far are you willing to take the fight to defund Planned Parenthood?

CHAFFETZ: I have -- the job as speaker is to unite our party in the House and we’re going to hold the line, from the whole political spectrum. That’s what I want to do. And then we're going to go fight and we’re going to make that case to the American people.

WALLACE: What about budget caps under sequestration? Are you willing to lift the caps so you would have more spending both on defense and some domestic spending?

CHAFFETZ: I want to cut -- personally, I want to cut spending. Personally, I just don't believe we can continue to add to the deficit. So, actually, personally, I like the budget cap.

I do believe we need more money for the military, we need more money for the V.A. We ought to take care of the people who take care of us. And I do want to fight cancer that is killing 1,500 people a day.

But that's -- again, it’s not my personal agenda. We’re going to move forward. As the speaker, you got to take the will of our body, appreciate and respect the process and then go fight for that.

WALLACE: The government will reach its debt limit on November 5th. Would you -- what would you demand from the president and from the Democrats in order to vote to lift the debt limit? And are you willing to risk the possibility of default in that negotiation?

CHAFFETZ: Our job in the House -- we have 246 members. Our job in the house is to actually put forward a bill. I would like it to see actually cut the deficit, not continue to add to the deficit. I don't want to borrow more money from China. I actually want to fight for those things that will solve the problem and not just keep punting it down the road.

WALLACE: But are you --


CHAFFETZ: When President Obama took office --

WALLACE: Where would you be on -- would you demand something in return for racing the debt limit?

CHAFFETZ: Well, we’ve got -- we're just not going to unilaterally raise the debt limit. I don’t think that’s a responsible thing for our company. The debt in this country when President Obama took office was $9 trillion. We’re approaching $20 trillion. We’re spending more than $600 million a day in interest on our national debt.

We've got to solve that problem, not just say, oh, let's just borrow more money from the Chinese. We’re not going to do that.

WALLACE: So, would it be fair to say as speaker, Congressman, you would be more confrontational than Boehner has been and that you believe that McCarthy would be?

CHAFFETZ: Look, I'm going to be myself. I'm going to get that body behind us, and then I’m going to fight. I’m going to make that case.

And you want a speaker who speaks. We need somebody who’s out there who is actually going out there and making the case to the American people, talking to the Senate about what we need to do, and going on the national television shows and winning that argument. We don't seem to win the argument. And that's a problem.

WALLACE: Just the suggestion that you would run for speaker has brought out some criticism from conservatives. They note you ran a hearing on Planned Parenthood this week. Take a look.


CHAFFETZ: Your compensation in 2009 was $353,000. Is that correct?

CECILE RICHARDS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD PRESIDENT: I don't have the figures with me. But I don’t want --

CHAFFETZ: It was. Congratulations.


WALLACE: Critics say that you focused on the wrong thing, you focused on the Planned Parenthood’s finances and not on the videos, and the fact they're trafficking fetal body parts.

CHAFFETZ: Well, we issued the subpoena. I issued a subpoena. We don't have all the videos yet, but I do think it's legitimate for a not-for-profit organization to question how they spend money. Exorbitant salaries, first class travel, charter airplane, they’re sending money overseas. These are not things that a not-for-profit needs.

$127 million more in revenues than expenses and they want more federal money? I think we can tackle it both on trafficking in fetal body parts, but also about the finances.

WALLACE: They also note that in June, you stripped conservative Congressman Mark Meadows of his subcommittee chairmanship because he balked, went against the House leadership in terms of giving fast-track trade authority to President Obama. You took his subcommittee chairmanship away. Is that the kind of speaker you would be?

CHAFFETZ: No, I think I learned from that lesson. That you’re not going to do things by cutting people off at the knees. I think I was a good leader and that I listened for an hour and 40 minds with my committee and reconsidered that decision.

We've got to win the argument and make case, not just knock people over the head if they don’t what we want to do.

So, it's a lesson learned. I think I’m better for it, and I think Mark is better for it, and we're certainly good friends on this day.

WALLACE: Finally, you're in an ugly situation. That’s one way of putting it, with the Secret Service. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, you held a hearing in March about the continued security lapses at the Secret Service. Here's a clip.


MCCARTHY: Don't let anybody get in that gate. And when they come to the gate and they've got a bomb and they say they have a bomb, believe ‘em, take ‘em down, take ‘em down!


WALLACE: Now, an inspector general's report has revealed that within days of that hearing, some 45 agency employees got ahold of your 2003 application to be a Secret Service agent and someone leaked the fact that your application had been rejected, and Director Joe Clancy is now revising his original account to the inspector general when he said back then that he didn't know people in the agency were looking at your file.

Question -- what action should be taken at the Secret Service and should Director Clancy step down?

CHAFFETZ: Well, the Secret Service is demonstrating why we started to investigate them and their shenanigans. I think the question is really for the Department of Justice. You had 45 -- 45 -- Secret Service agents violate federal law according to the inspector general? What is the attorney general doing? Why isn't there a special prosecutor over there?

It's kind of scary. I fear that these people -- if they do this to me, I'm sure it's probably not the first time. I'm a sitting member of Congress. Nobody should have that done. It's a violation of federal law.

WALLACE: And do you still have confidence in Director Clancy?

CHAFFETZ: I lose it every day. Again, this is why almost two years ago we started investigating the Secret Service. They've had a series of mishaps and they're entrusted with guns near the president. This is -- and they’re the most sensitive classified information. I -- they’ve got a serious cultural problem.

WALLACE: Congressman Chaffetz, thank you. Thanks for coming in today.

CHAFFETZ: Appreciate it.

WALLACE: And we'll follow the battle for speakership this week.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you.

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