The US congressman who is leading the public inquiry against Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server could continue his rambunctious rise to Washington power, if a drafting effort by the Republican far right succeeds in the wake of John Boehner’s shock resignation.
Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina representative and chair of the House select committee on Benghazi, has been the thorn in the side of the former secretary and current White House frontrunner – and has forced her to testify before him next month.
Now, hard-line conservatives like those who drove Boehner to step down as House speaker last week are recruiting the fiery former prosecutor to take his crusades up a notch: as Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives.
Gowdy’s chairmanship of the Benghazi committee has made him a rightwing hero of sorts.
Mia Love, the first-term representative from Utah who has quickly risen to influence in the Republican ranks, tweeted on Tuesday: “Join me in drafting Trey Gowdy for Majority Leader.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the House oversight committee, told Fox News on Tuesday that Gowdy as majority leader would be “heaven-sent”, adding in a statement that Gowdy was “the best person to unite our conference and articulate the Republican message” as “widely trusted and beloved in our conference”.
“I actually think he’ll do it if we get behind it and support it,” Chaffetz said on Fox.
But Gowdy would face equally controversial opponents in succeeding as majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who is widely expected to succeed Boehner as speaker of the house.
There appear to be two other leading candidates for the second-ranking position in the Republican-controlled House: Tom Price of Georgia and Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Scalise, currently third in the party hierarchy, found himself in a firestorm in December when it emerged that he had spoken at a white supremacist conference in New Orleans which was also addressed by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke .
Price is the chair of the House budget committee, and already has the endorsement of his predecessor and Mitt Romney’s former running mate Paul Ryan, which strengthens his bona fides among fiscal hawks.
If Gowdy were to become majority leader, it would be almost impossibleto continue as chair of the Benghazi committee, which will welcome Clinton on 22 October.
But his rise to such a position would signal that a battle for the soul of the Republican party had indeed shifted to the right, where squabbles over Benghazi and an Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal have frustrated establishment conservatives in intransigent Washington.
“Now is not the time for more infighting,” former House majority leader Eric Cantor wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times on Friday. “Now is the time to come together and lay out a positive, honest governing platform to take the country forward.”
A spokesperson for Gowdy did not rule out a bid for more power.
“Chairman Gowdy is focused on the Benghazi committee and will serve in that capacity so long as the committee exists,” a spokesperson told the Guardian on Tuesday. “He appreciates the confidence of his colleagues and looks forward to tonight’s conference discussion.”
Support for Gowdy to succeed McCarthy remains minimal, which first emerged after a Republican conference gathering on Tuesday morning, with the endorsement of New York representative Lee Zeldin as well. Another conference meeting was expected at 5pm ET.