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 and Sarah Mimms
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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