Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who chairs the powerful Republican Study Committee, will run for the position of House majority whip, according to two sources with knowledge of his plans.
Scalise, who has spent months mulling a campaign for the No. 3 spot in leadership, finalized his plans last night after Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat in Virginia’s 7th District primary. According to a senior GOP aide, Scalise will likely announce his plans publicly sometime in the next two weeks.
Cantor’s loss triggered an immediate domino effect inside the House Republican Conference, prompting members who were already considering leadership bids to accelerate their planning. Fortunately for Scalise, who has made little secret of his desire to win the whip’s office, there were no frantic late-night phone calls to be made last night. The plans have already been laid; Scalise was prepared to seek the position whether current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy sought reelection or not.
Now, with McCarthy likely to run for the majority leader’s post, it will be a free-for-all to replace him. In addition to Scalise, Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, another lawmaker who has been laying the groundwork for a leadership campaign, also plans to run for whip, according to two GOP sources. Senior Republicans also expect Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions to consider the race — potentially setting up what could be an extremely competitive three-way contest between well-liked and well-connected members.
Scalise may start the race with a mathematical advantage, given that he chairs the largest member caucus in all of Congress. (The RSC today has more than 170 active members.) That said, some of the RSC’s hard-core conservatives have expressed disappointment with Scalise, arguing that the traditionally aggressive group has adopted a more passive approach under his leadership.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, the South Carolina sophomore who is running to succeed Scalise as RSC chairman, said earlier this year that the group has devolved into a “conservative debate club.” And Rep. Raul Labrador, another influential conservative, concluded separately of the RSC: “It’s a debate society.”
Still, Scalise enjoys widespread support among the RSC rank and file, and is respected throughout the conference. His campaign for whip, according to one source, will be championed by several influential and well-liked lawmakers, including Reps. Kevin Brady of Texas and Phil Roe of Tennessee.
Scalise is also highly regarded by the current leadership team. Many top Republican staffers earlier this year believed that Cantor, if he ascended to the speakership in the next Congress, would attempt to bring aboard Scalise as his whip. While there are many leadership scenarios that could yet play out, that certainly won’t be one of them.