Rep. Kevin McCarthy Elected New GOP Leader; Steve Scalise Chosen as Next Whip

But a bigger House leadership fight is just beginning.

House Republican Whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, leaves a meeting of the House Republican conference June 18, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Tim Alberta Billy House Sarah Mimms
June 19, 2014, 11:13 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans on Thursday elec­ted Kev­in Mc­Carthy as their new ma­jor­ity lead­er, el­ev­at­ing the 49-year-old Cali­for­ni­an to the No. 2 po­s­i­tion in GOP lead­er­ship and trig­ger­ing a sub­sequent con­test to re­place him as ma­jor­ity whip.

Mc­Carthy de­feated Rep. Raul Lab­rador in the race to re­place Eric Can­tor, whose shock­ing primary loss last Tues­day set the stage for Thursday’s secret-bal­lot spe­cial elec­tion. After the vote, Lab­rador asked for the res­ults to be re­cor­ded as un­an­im­ous — a ges­ture ap­pre­ci­ated by his col­leagues.

Shortly after Mc­Carthy’s vic­tory, Re­pub­lic­ans elec­ted Rep. Steve Scal­ise to re­place him as whip on the first bal­lot. Scal­ise was the front-run­ner throughout the three-man race between him, Rep. Peter Roskam, and Rep. Marlin Stutz­man; the only ques­tion was wheth­er Scal­ise could win an out­right ma­jor­ity on the first bal­lot and avoid an un­pre­dict­able head-to-head con­test with either Roskam or Stutz­man.

Roskam at­trib­uted Scal­ise’s first-bal­lot vic­tory to “a great cam­paign,” adding that he will “act­ively sup­port” the new whip.

Vote tal­lies were not re­leased by GOP of­fi­cials in charge of the elec­tion, but the end res­ult is all that mat­ters: Mc­Carthy and Scal­ise will join Speak­er John Boehner atop the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship team.

After the votes, the new team — Mc­Carthy, Scal­ise, Boehner, and Con­fer­ence Chair­wo­man Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers — came to­geth­er for a short news con­fer­ence. “I make one prom­ise,” Mc­Carthy said. “I will work every single day to make sure this con­fer­ence has the cour­age to lead with the wis­dom to listen. And we’ll turn this coun­try around.”

Scal­ise em­phas­ized that he would bring a fresh voice to lead­er­ship and asked Pres­id­ent Obama to work with them to solve the na­tion’s prob­lems. “We’ve got sol­id con­ser­vat­ive solu­tions that are go­ing to solve the prob­lems fa­cing our coun­try,” he said.

Mc­Carthy and Scal­ise will not of­fi­cially as­sume their new roles un­til Ju­ly 31, when Can­tor steps down from the post. At that point only 12 le­gis­lat­ive days are sched­uled be­fore the Nov. 4 midterm elec­tions. And, after the midterms wrap up, an­oth­er round of in­tern­al elec­tions will be held for both parties in the House to choose lead­ers for the next Con­gress.

Re­pub­lic­ans, in fact, were buzz­ing about this fall’s elec­tions be­fore Thursday’s con­test was com­pleted.

“We’re go­ing to hold them ac­count­able,” Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Car­o­lina said Wed­nes­day when speak­ing about the can­did­ates in Thursday’s races. “There’s an­oth­er lead­er­ship elec­tion right around the corner, and we’re go­ing to watch how this new lead­er­ship team works with the speak­er and how they lead the con­fer­ence through this cru­cial Novem­ber elec­tion. And then we’ll judge them.”

While Mc­Carthy sup­port­ers were cel­eb­rat­ing, Freedom­Works Pres­id­ent Matt Kibbe, in re­sponse to Lab­rador’s loss, was already point­ing to the next round of lead­er­ship vot­ing after the Nov. 4 elec­tions — a har­binger of pos­sible battles ahead.

“We are look­ing for­ward to an even big­ger group of liberty lead­er­ship can­did­ates after the elec­tions in Novem­ber,” said Kibbe.

When Mc­Carthy was asked at the press­er after the vote about pos­sible con­ser­vat­ive con­cern over his blue-state back­ground, the Cali­for­nia Re­pub­lic­an touted his bio­graphy. House Re­pub­lic­ans “elec­ted a guy who is a grand­son of a cattle ranch­er, a son of a fire­fight­er. Only in Amer­ica do you get that op­por­tun­ity,” he said.

“I think you give an op­por­tun­ity, people’ll be very im­pressed about what we’re go­ing to do and where we’re go­ing to go,” he said be­fore leav­ing the po­di­um.

Mc­Carthy will be­come the na­tion’s 25th dif­fer­ent House ma­jor­ity lead­er — a po­s­i­tion cre­ated in 1899 and first held by an­oth­er Re­pub­lic­an, Ser­eno Elisha Payne of New York. No ma­jor­ity lead­er has ever ris­en from that post to even­tu­ally be­come pres­id­ent. But some have been pro­moted to speak­er — in­clud­ing Boehner, who was lead­er from 2005 to 2007.

The main du­ties of a ma­jor­ity lead­er are to sched­ule le­gis­la­tion for floor con­sid­er­a­tion, and plan the daily — and weekly — agen­das, along with gauging mem­ber sen­ti­ment on goals and how to pro­ceed.

Mc­Carthy will have more than a month to trans­ition in­to the new role, but he could non­ethe­less face a bap­tism by fire. There’s a bundle of un­re­solved but im­port­ant le­gis­la­tion in this Con­gress that a lead­er must de­cide wheth­er or when to move for­ward on. Those range from un­fin­ished ap­pro­pri­ations bills for the fisc­al year start­ing Oct. 1, to mis­cel­laneous tar­iffs, ter­ror­ism risk in­sur­ance, the Trade Ad­just­ment As­sist­ance pro­gram, re­char­ter­ing the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, re­plen­ish­ing the High­way Trust Fund, and passing a new sur­face-trans­port­a­tion bill.

Some House Re­pub­lic­ans have said they be­lieve Can­tor stick­ing around through next month will help Mc­Carthy — Can­tor’s best friend in Con­gress — and his staff learn the ropes of their new job. Can­tor en­dorsed Mc­Carthy to suc­ceed him last Wed­nes­day after an­noun­cing his Ju­ly 31 resig­na­tion as lead­er.

Im­me­di­ately after Mc­Carthy’s elec­tion was an­nounced, Can­tor tweeted his ap­prov­al.

Scal­ise also should be­ne­fit from a slow trans­ition, as his new po­s­i­tion en­tails for­ging per­son­al re­la­tion­ships across the con­fer­ence to build vot­ing co­ali­tions that tran­scend the House GOP’s geo­graph­ic and ideo­lo­gic­al bound­ar­ies. It’s a dif­fi­cult job — and one that Scal­ise could be quite well-suited to, giv­en his im­press­ive whip­ping op­er­a­tion this week that won him the pro­mo­tion.

One of the real­it­ies await­ing Mc­Carthy and Scal­ise is that Amer­ic­an con­fid­ence in Con­gress has sunk to a new low.

A new Gal­lup poll shows 7 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of con­fid­ence in Con­gress as an Amer­ic­an in­sti­tu­tion — down from the pre­vi­ous low of 10 per­cent in 2013. Those res­ults come from a June 5-8 Gal­lup poll that up­dated Amer­ic­ans’ con­fid­ence in 17 U.S. in­sti­tu­tions.

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