U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Credit: U.S. House/Justin LoFranco

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks after being anointed front-runner to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as speaker of the House of Representatives, House Majority Leader and commercial space industry supporter Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has taken himself out of the running.

In a press conference Oct. 8, McCarthy, who was facing a challenge for the position, cited the need to maintain party unity and to have a “fresh face” as speaker in his decision to step aside. McCarthy drew a storm of criticism from both parties for suggesting that an investigation by House Republicans into the performance of former secretary of state and now Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2012 terrorist attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, was politically motivated.

McCarthy’s California district includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, which is home base to a number of commercial space transportation development efforts. He sponsored the industry-friendly Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015.

“McCarthy is the strongest supporter of commercial space in the Congress,” James Muncy, principal of space policy consultancy PoliSpace, said when McCarthy emerged as the leading candidate to replace Boehner.

McCarthy’s announcement came as the House was preparing to vote on the next speaker.

Among the Republicans who have expressed interest in succeeding Boehner as House speaker is Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Boehner surprised colleagues and media alike Sept. 25 when he announced that he would be leaving Congress at the end of October.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...