McCarthy Poised to Become Next GOP Leader

The House majority whip still has a possible obstacle in his path: Rep. Raul Labrador.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) offers remarks as Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) looks on during a media availability following a Republican Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol, December 11, 2013, in Washington, DC. House Speaker John Boehner responded to conservative groups opposing the newly announced bipartisan budget deal, saying 'They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.' 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
June 12, 2014, 4:22 p.m.

House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy has what ap­pears to be a wide-open route to the No. 2 spot in the House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship after con­ser­vat­ives’ favored can­did­ate, Jeb Hensarling, said he wouldn’t run for ma­jor­ity lead­er.

Mc­Carthy’s path to win­ning next Thursday’s spe­cial elec­tion still has obstacles. But one of the biggest people in his way, Rep. Pete Ses­sions, ab­ruptly dropped his bid to re­place Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor Thursday night.

But Rep. Raul Lab­rador of Idaho could still give Mc­Carthy a chal­lenge. Lab­rador is quietly con­sid­er­ing a cam­paign for ma­jor­ity lead­er, ac­cord­ing to a source fa­mil­i­ar with the con­gress­man’s think­ing, po­ten­tially set­ting up a three-way race to re­place Can­tor.

Ses­sions, the former chair­man of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, ar­gued be­fore drop­ping out that he’d be the con­ser­vat­ive who could bridge the House GOP’s in­tern­al di­vide. “Tex­ans, Geor­gi­ans, Pennsylvani­ans — I can bring us to­geth­er,” he said.

Un­like Hensarling, Ses­sions seemed to be a long shot to topple Mc­Carthy and his vote-count­ing ma­chine. Ses­sions is not nearly as pop­u­lar among con­ser­vat­ives in the con­fer­ence, and while he has a strong re­la­tion­ship with Speak­er John Boehner, most of the es­tab­lish­ment-al­lied Re­pub­lic­ans are already ral­ly­ing be­hind Mc­Carthy.

The dom­in­oes don’t stop fall­ing there.

If Mc­Carthy wins the ma­jor­ity lead­er’s post next Thursday, there will be an im­me­di­ate and sub­sequent con­test to re­place him as ma­jor­ity whip. It was thought that this race would fea­ture Reps. Steve Scal­ise of Louisi­ana and Peter Roskam of Illinois go­ing head-to-head, and seni­or Re­pub­lic­ans pegged Scal­ise as the odds-on fa­vor­ite. But Rep. Marlin Stutz­man let it be known Thursday morn­ing that he, too, will run, com­plic­at­ing the math of that con­test as Stutz­man could draw some con­ser­vat­ive sup­port away from Scal­ise.

Scal­ise’s team pushed back against that no­tion Thursday af­ter­noon, and one ally of the Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­an even ar­gued that Scal­ise was close to clinch­ing “the ma­gic num­ber” of sup­port­ers needed to sew up the race for ma­jor­ity whip. Scal­ise hoped to have the race wrapped up by Thursday even­ing when law­makers leave town for the week­end, al­though that seems highly un­likely.

Stutz­man, a third-term law­maker from In­di­ana, is pop­u­lar in the con­fer­ence and es­pe­cially well-liked by the young con­ser­vat­ives who com­prised the classes of 2010 and 2012. He also en­joys good re­la­tions with power­ful con­ser­vat­ive groups out­side the Cap­it­ol. Stutz­man may be a more at­tract­ive op­tion to the young­er Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee mem­bers than Scal­ise, whose lead­er­ship of the group — some call it a “de­bate so­ci­ety” — has drawn grumbles from some mem­bers look­ing for a more as­sert­ive ap­proach.

It’s not clear that Stutz­man can win — odds are, he prob­ably can’t — but if he suc­cess­fully splin­ters the con­ser­vat­ive vote, Roskam could claim the whip’s of­fice with a co­ali­tion of mod­er­ates and es­tab­lish­ment-friendly con­ser­vat­ives.

Whatever the out­come, the whip’s race seems destined to be more com­pet­it­ive and sus­pense­ful than the con­test to re­place Can­tor. Mc­Carthy, whose vote-count­ing op­er­a­tion was hum­ming as of Wed­nes­day morn­ing, starts the con­test with a sig­ni­fic­ant lead on a pos­sible chal­lenger. 

Be­fore ex­it­ing the race, Ses­sions had one factor work­ing in his fa­vor: the size of the Texas del­eg­a­tion. Twenty-four House Re­pub­lic­ans hail from the Lone Star state, and Re­pub­lic­an sources ex­pec­ted the vast ma­jor­ity of them to back Ses­sions. 

But one mem­ber of the Texas del­eg­a­tion, Rep. John Carter, con­ceded that Mc­Carthy may’ve had a head start on Ses­sions. “Roy Blunt told me he had it sewn up, too. But John Boehner is speak­er,” Carter said, re­fer­ring to a by­gone GOP lead­er­ship race.

In a state­ment bow­ing out Thursday night, Ses­sions said that “it be­came ob­vi­ous to me that the meas­ures ne­ces­sary to run a suc­cess­ful cam­paign would have cre­ated un­ne­ces­sary and pain­ful di­vi­sion with­in our party.”

Hensarling’s de­cision was a blow to the GOP’s right flank, as he was the last of their pre­ferred can­did­ates to be ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing a run against Mc­Carthy. For the siz­able bloc of tea-party-al­lied law­makers who have been fix­ated on in­ject­ing fresh blood in­to the up­per ech­el­ons of GOP lead­er­ship, there are only a few whom they view as le­git­im­ate, ac­cept­able can­did­ates be­sides Hensarling: Paul Ry­an, Jim Jordan, and Tom Price.

But Ry­an and Jordan have re­peatedly and em­phat­ic­ally denied any in­terest in a lead­er­ship race. Price, who already lost a bid for con­fer­ence chair at the out­set of this Con­gress, con­firmed in a state­ment Thursday morn­ing that he’s fo­cused on tak­ing over the Budget Com­mit­tee from Ry­an next year. And it’s al­most im­possible to ima­gine any oth­er con­ser­vat­ive law­maker piecing to­geth­er the co­ali­tion needed to win a lead­er­ship post — es­pe­cially on such short no­tice.

Of course, there was nev­er any guar­an­tee that Hensarling could win; in fact, some Re­pub­lic­ans think Mc­Carthy can’t be beaten by any­one next week, giv­en the short turn­around. Hensarling, had he jumped in, would have had just one week to or­gan­ize against an op­pon­ent whose op­er­a­tion is buzz­ing along and already se­cur­ing com­mit­ments from dozens of law­makers. “I just don’t see it,” said one seni­or Re­pub­lic­an aide not af­fil­i­ated with any of the in­tern­al cam­paigns.

That said, the “Draft Hensarling” ef­fort isn’t go­ing away. Con­ser­vat­ives have been push­ing him for months to chal­lenge either Boehner or Can­tor in this Novem­ber’s elec­tions. And those same mem­bers, while dis­ap­poin­ted that he won’t run next week, are poised to pick up their pres­sure cam­paign in the months ahead. Hensarling, in a brief in­ter­view Thursday, de­clined to cla­ri­fy wheth­er his de­cision not to run next week would ap­ply to Novem­ber’s con­fer­ence elec­tions as well.

“My state­ment this morn­ing speaks for it­self,” Hensarling said.

This story was up­dated with the news that Rep. Ses­sions had dropped his bid for ma­jor­ity lead­er.

Billy House contributed to this article.
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