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Sources: Flores, Conaway Weighing Bids for U.S. House Speaker

Sources told the Tribune that U.S. Reps. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, Mike Conaway, R-Midland, are considering bids for the gavel after U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew from the speaker’s race on Thursday.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

WASHINGTON — Two Texans are positioning themselves for a run to become the next speaker of the U.S. House, according to sources with knowledge of the congressmen’s interest. 

U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, and Bill Flores, R-Bryan, are considering bids for the gavel, in light of U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal from the speaker’s race on Thursday. 

Two sources — including a staffer for a member of the Texas GOP delegation — confirmed the bids to The Texas Tribune. 

The sources insist that it is an amicable situation between the two men and that it is highly unlikely the Texas delegation would split allegiances. In repeated comments from Texas GOP members throughout the day, there was an emphatic insistence that the delegation would stay united. 

Both Conaway and Flores were active on the House floor Thursday afternoon after McCarthy’s announcement, regularly seen chatting with several colleagues. 

McCarthy, a California Republican and heir apparent to the speaker's gavel, withdrew Thursday from the race to succeed outgoing Speaker John Boehner, unleashing chaos onto the Capitol complex. 

After Boehner said in September that he was stepping down, U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling's name immediately emerged as a possible candidate for speaker. But the Dallas Republican, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, ruled out a bid for a leadership post days after Boehner's announcement.

Conaway, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, spent part of the day contacting other members of Congress gauging support, multiple sources told the Tribune. He declined to comment to the Tribune on the reports of his bid for speaker. 

Flores’ activity was less clear, but he told the Tribune on Thursday afternoon that he was on the receiving end of calls from other members encouraging him to run. Flores chairs a group called the Republican Study Committee, the largest voting bloc in the House GOP. In an interview earlier this year, he told the Tribune that he would term-limit himself, though he gave no indication on timing. 

Soon after McCarthy made his announcement early Thursday, the Texas GOP delegation met in a House Homeland Security Committee room to discuss how it would proceed in this new, unstable chapter for the U.S. Congress.

Texas has the largest delegation in the GOP, and members pride themselves on power through unity.

For that reason, many members, staffers and reporters hovered around Texas Republicans trying to glean how the delegation would wield its power.

Members emerged from the delegation's meeting often hustling past reporters, but a few discussed their reaction to the news. They were steadfast that a Texan should be in consideration for the third-ranking post in the U.S. government and that the delegation should unite behind that person. 

But for now, the most repeated phrase among members is an insistence to "keep the powder dry" and not endorse anyone until the 25-member group meets again. And no member would name who he or she is coalescing behind or if those decisions have been made.  

House Republicans met earlier in the day, when it became clear McCarthy would not run. 

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, described that meeting as "short and startling." 

"We had a shock today," she added. 

Granger insisted that despite the recent upheaval, Congress is governable.

"But it’s going to take a lot of leadership to make us cohesive again," she added. "Because it’s as splintered as I’ve ever seen it. And I’ve been around here a long time." 

What is also unclear is whether there will be an opportunity for U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions to run for House majority whip, the third-ranking slot among House Republicans. The chain reaction of McCarthy's ascension could have created an opportunity for Sessions to seek that post.

But now that trajectory is as uncertain as everything else happening in House Republican politics. 

The problem for McCarthy, and nearly anyone running for speaker, is that he or she will need to secure 218 votes on the House floor to control the gavel. While there are 247 Republican members, it is impossible to get to 218 without the support of some of the 40 or so conservatives who are insist on purity within their ranks. 

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat, watched the drama unfold as a spectator. 

"It is very surprising that they have rejected their No. 1 and their No. 2 leaders," he said. "And so long as they give total veto to this shutdown caucus, I think we’ll just be bumping along from one manufactured crisis to another.

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