WASHINGTON — Acknowledging an "uphill climb," U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster said Monday he is making a serious effort to replace House Speaker John Boehner, whose resignation last week underscored a stark divide within the GOP.
"I'm running hard," Webster said by telephone as he prepared to fly from Orlando to Washington and continue to meet with House colleagues.
He would not reveal specifics about the level of support he has gotten, but said his message was resonating with rank-and-file members who felt excluded under Boehner.
"People want to do this. They want to have their ideas heard," Webster said.
Boehner's No. 2, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, is the clear favorite and formally announced his campaign Monday afternoon with a similar message. "I am running to be your speaker because I know that the People's House works best when the leadership you elect listens to members and respects the legislative process entrusted to committees," he said.
Webster, who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times earlier in the day, implied his rival would bring more of the same. "I think it would revert back to a power-based system." His rival may be able to foster inclusion, Webster added, "but I haven't seen that in five years."
McCarthy's office declined comment.
Webster, 66, was first elected in the 2010 wave that brought Boehner to power and was part of a failed coup against him in January. The speaker never fully recovered, caught in a long-running fight between the GOP's mainstream and more conservative flanks that demanded a harder fight against the policies of President Barack Obama.
"I'm not an angry kind of person," Webster said when asked if he fit the prevailing sentiment. "What I am is a principled person." He said he would recreate a model he used as speaker of the Florida House from 1996-98 that gave individual members a voice.
"A principle-based Congress pushes down the pyramid of power, spread outs the base and allows every member to be successful," he said. "It doesn't mean their bills or amendments pass; it means they get an opportunity. Right now the process itself kills most of the ideas through truncated rules and other things done in order to limit discussion."
Webster played down how the court-ordered redistricting process could affect him. Redrawn district lines could render Webster's Orlando-area district far more favorable to a Democrat.
"That's a long way to go," said Webster, who has already begun a legal challenge that contends a redrawn district would violate a provision of the state Constitution barring district lines that either favor or disfavor an incumbent.
Webster also would not engage on the topic of the day: a possible government shutdown over GOP demands of stripping federal funding for Planned Parenthood. "I don't want that to get in the way of what I'm working on," he said, though he noted his "pro-life" stance.
"The reason we're in this whole mess is because we never did appropriations bills," Webster said. "We waited and waited."
His previous attempt to become speaker was driven by the last funding impasse in late 2013. Many Republicans wanted a shorter deal to keep the government running but House leaders would not allow a vote on an amendment. After the failed coup in January, Boehner retaliated by throwing Webster off the Rules Committee.
"The process is broken and when the process is broken, the product will be broken," Webster said Monday. "All I want to do is get back to a principle-based Congress."
A date has not been set for the leadership elections.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, is running for majority whip.
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