A battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives began taking clearer shape on Monday with a senior Republican announcing his bid, as expected, to replace retiring Speaker John Boehner, and another conservative declining to run.
Five-term Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is the front-runner to become Boehner's successor, made it official in a letter to his House Republican colleagues and separately criticized Democratic President Barack Obama's foreign policy.
The 50-year-old Californian has built bridges to the Tea Party faction of the party, but his bid was met with skepticism from some of the same conservatives who made Boehner's tenure turbulent, ultimately driving him from power.
Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie, a Tea Party favorite, in a telephone interview said some members were hesitating to endorse McCarthy because it would be "hard to go back home to your town halls and say, guess what, we did what you wanted, we replaced Boehner ... with his right-hand man."
Massie said a serious alternative to McCarthy would be Representative Daniel Webster, a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and the only Republican lawmaker besides McCarthy to so far announce for the top U.S. House job.
Representative Jeb Hensarling, the conservative Republican chairman of the Financial Services Committee, has been considered by some as Speaker material. But a Hensarling aide said Monday his boss would not vie for a leadership position.
Hensarling and another key Republican, Representative Paul Ryan, endorsed Representative Tom Price, a conservative Georgian, to replace McCarthy as the No. 2 House Republican, who makes day-to-day decisions about what goes on the House floor.
Price is a physician who chairs the House budget committee. Ryan is a former vice presidential nominee.
Whoever becomes Speaker after Boehner leaves on Oct. 30 will be third in line in the succession to the U.S. presidency, after the vice president, if the incumbent president were to no longer be able to carry out the duties of the office.
No date for a House leadership election has been set.
Boehner triggered the changing of the guard on Friday when he said he will leave Congress at the end of October after struggling with repeated rebellions by conservatives during a tumultuous five-year reign as the chamber's top Republican.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker)