U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo to back Tennessee lawmaker for speaker

 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo waves to supporters as he celebrates his re-election victory in 2012.
AMANDA MCCOY/SUN HERALD 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo waves to supporters as he celebrates his re-election victory in 2012. AP

WASHINGTON -- Conservative U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi said Friday he would attempt to rally support behind Rep. Marsha Blackburn -- a veteran Tennessee congresswoman whose name has drawn little attention in the jockeying for a new House leader -- to succeed Ohio Rep. John Boehner as the next speaker.

Blackburn, in her seventh term in the House, only last week announced she would back Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a House Republican whip, to replace California Rep. Kevin McCarthy as House majority leader.

Palazzo said he has been "sitting back listening to my colleagues" amid the turmoil in the fractured House Republican caucus after McCarthy's stunning announcement Thursday that he was dropping out of the race to succeed Boehner.

"I want a proven conservative," Palazzo said in a phone interview. "I want someone who has stood up to the establishment, someone who will restore regular order."

While Blackburn is staunchly anti-abortion, "pro-gun" and wants smaller government, he said, "I don't think she could be attacked by liberals or the far right."

"She would not have a moment like we had with Benghazi, with Kevin McCarthy," he said, referring to the embarrassment caused when McCarthy told Fox News last week that a House Select Committee investigating the fatal 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya had succeeded in its mission to drive down Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton's polling numbers.

"This is what the conference wants," Palazzo said of Blackburn. "I just don't think they realize it yet.

"It's really just started today. I've mentioned it to some of my colleagues from Mississippi and other states."

The problem is, Blackburn isn't a declared candidate for the speaker's job and there's been no indication she would attract broad support. Boehner and other Republican leaders have been focused on trying to persuade Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to agree to pursue the job.

Palazzo said he accepts Ryan's public statements that he doesn't want the speaker's job and wants to work on policy.

He acknowledged that he "was not heart-broken to learn of Boehner's resignation and McCarthy's decision to withdraw. The current leadership, he contended, has "neutered" House committee chairmen by undercutting their authority.

He said he had approached Blackburn, a Mississippi State University graduate, about promoting her to lead the House.

"She's very polite," he said. "She said she'd like to talk to me further about it. I'm looking forward to that conversation."

"We're going to have to kind of draft Marsha," Palazzo said, calling her the "only person who can unite this conference."