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Kevin McCarthy announces bid to become House speaker

Kevin McCarthy

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy meets with constituents at the Sequoia Sandwich Company in Bakersfield on June 27, 2014.

(Casey Christie / Associated Press)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield on Monday formally launched his bid to become speaker of the House, promising to change the culture in Washington but offering few specifics on how he would unite the fractured Republican Party that controls Congress.

“It’s not going to be easy to change this culture and it won’t happen overnight, but that’s my mission,” McCarthy said on Fox News.

McCarthy has been the favorite to win the job since Speaker John A. Boehner unexpectedly announced Friday that he would resign at the end of next month after withstanding years of pressure from insurgent Republicans who urged the Ohioan to be more confrontational with the Democratic White House.

In a letter to colleagues announcing he would run for the job and during an appearance on Fox News hours later, McCarthy tried to appease Boehner’s GOP critics while dropping hints that he would be willing to compromise on issues such as immigration. His cautious words show how tricky the politics will be for him if he wins the job.

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“The system is created so you can’t get 100% of what you want,” McCarthy said in the Fox interview. “I think that’s probably good.”

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McCarthy said he would seek “the most conservative solution I can get into law.”

Such words could upset hard-line Republicans, who have accused Boehner of being too willing to compromise with President Obama, whom they distrust.

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McCarthy’s letter to colleagues indicated that he also wants to show rebellious Republicans that he will at least listen to them, and perhaps join their fight. He promised to show the “courage to lead the fight for our conservative principles and make our case to the American people.”

McCarthy helped elect many of those Republicans to Congress in recent years, recruiting them to run and raising money for their candidacies. But if he wins, he is likely to face the same pressure that Boehner did to avoid compromising with Obama and other Democrats.

The federal government partially shut down for more than two weeks in 2013 because Republicans insisted that they would not pass a budget that funded Obama’s healthcare plan, a condition Democrats would not meet. Congress is at risk of another shutdown this week because of a dispute over funding for Planned Parenthood, though Boehner’s resignation probably will prevent a similar standoff.

If McCarthy is elected speaker, it would be the first time in history that the House speaker and House minority leader would represent the same state. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, serves as the House minority leader. McCarthy’s rise to the speakership also would be the fastest since Charles Frederick Crisp, a Georgia Democrat, 124 years ago. McCarthy, 50, was first elected in 2006 and became majority leader last year after the man who held the job, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, suffered an embarrassing defeat in a primary election.

Though McCarthy is the favorite to become speaker, arch-conservatives have yet to endorse him, with some expressing skepticism that he will be sufficiently conservative.

McCarthy said during Monday’s interview that he would avoid government shutdowns and that the best way to pressure Planned Parenthood would be to create a select committee that would bring attention to its practices, similar to the select committee on the Obama administration’s handling of attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

“We need to fight, but we need to fight to win,” McCarthy said.

Members of a GOP group that calls itself the House Freedom Caucus, which says it includes more than 40 dissident members, have said they may withhold support until they are satisfied that Boehner’s successor will be sufficiently conservative. They have not said whether they will ask for something specific in return for their support. But if they resist, they could deny McCarthy the votes he needs to win a majority on the House floor.

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But only one other person has announced he is running for the job, Florida Rep. Daniel Webster, who received 12 votes when he challenged Boehner for the job in January.

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