House GOP Leaders Prepare to Swap Titles — and Office Space

A reminder about the Capitol: “Nothing is more important here to people than real estate.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to the media while flanked by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R), after attending the weekly House Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner spoke on various issues including unemployment insurance. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
July 27, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

With no fan­fare — well, maybe a little fan­fare — House Re­pub­lic­ans by the end of this week will of­fi­cially have a brand new ma­jor­ity lead­er, a new ma­jor­ity whip, and just 12 sched­uled le­gis­lat­ive days re­main­ing be­fore it’s time to pick yet an­oth­er new slate of lead­ers.

This all hap­pens, tech­nic­ally, after the stroke of mid­night Thursday, com­mem­or­ated in a no­ti­fic­a­tion by Re­pub­lic­ans to the House clerk de­clar­ing that as of Aug. 1, Kev­in Mc­Carthy is the ma­jor­ity lead­er and Steve Scal­ise is the new ma­jor­ity whip.

No parade. No tick­er tape.

Mean­while, the cur­rent ma­jor­ity lead­er, Eric Can­tor, doesn’t com­pletely turn in­to a pump­kin.

But Can­tor’s already di­min­ished vis­ib­il­ity and in­flu­ence will now be ac­com­pan­ied by a loss of much of his staff as well as his prime second-floor Cap­it­ol of­fice digs between Statu­ary Hall and the Ro­tunda, close to where the No. 1 House Re­pub­lic­an, Speak­er John Boehner, com­mands.

Can­tor has said he will re­main as a con­gress­man through the end of this term and not quit early. But now, his Wash­ing­ton activ­it­ies through Decem­ber will mostly be based out of his reg­u­lar third-floor of­fice in the Can­non House Of­fice Build­ing.

“My grand­fath­er said it best: A pea­cock one day, a feath­er dust­er the next. That’s the best way you can ex­plain it,” said Rep. John Lar­son, D-Conn.

“In fact, my heart goes out to Eric Can­tor and his fam­ily,” Lar­son said. But he ad­ded of Con­gress, “Noth­ing is more im­port­ant here to people than real es­tate. When you’re out, you’re out.”

That may seem a smidge like cro­codile tears from a polit­ic­al ad­versary. But as a former House Demo­crat­ic Caucus chair­man, Lar­son has gone through kind of the same thing him­self — al­though not at quite the same level — hav­ing lost his lead­er­ship status in 2013 be­cause of Demo­crat­ic Caucus term lim­its.

Can­tor’s of­fice did not re­turn re­quests for an in­ter­view about this week’s of­fi­cial changeover.

It wasn’t term lim­its that did in Can­tor’s lead­er­ship status. Rather, it was Re­pub­lic­an voters in his Vir­gin­ia dis­trict.

And it was right after his primary elec­tion loss that Can­tor an­nounced he would step down as ma­jor­ity lead­er — but not right away. He set Ju­ly 31 as the date. And that set off an in­tern­al House Re­pub­lic­an elec­tion to re­place him.

The res­ult was that Mc­Carthy was chosen to move up from be­ing ma­jor­ity whip to ma­jor­ity lead­er, a rise from No. 3 to the No. 2 spot. And Scal­ise was picked to suc­ceed Mc­Carthy as whip — a job that makes him the party’s new vote counter and en­for­cer.

A Mc­Carthy spokes­man said Fri­day that he wasn’t sure wheth­er all the fi­nal de­cisions re­gard­ing his boss’s of­fice space had been made.

However, oth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans said the Cali­for­ni­an has told them he has de­cided not to move in­to the second-floor space Can­tor is va­cat­ing, but in­stead stay where he is in a suite of first-floor of­fices off the main hall­way in the Cap­it­ol. In fact, cur­rent Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er oc­cu­pied that same space that Mc­Carthy will re­main when he was ma­jor­ity lead­er un­til 2011. And Boehner also made that his base of op­er­a­tions when he was ma­jor­ity lead­er.

In­stead, it is Scal­ise and his whip op­er­a­tions that are mov­ing to take Can­tor’s space — and Scal­ise’s chosen chief deputy whip, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Car­o­lina, will work in a third-floor of­fice above that spot.

As of Fri­day, that re­shuff­ling still had not oc­curred and Scal­ise’s op­er­a­tions re­mained holed up in a tem­por­ary loc­a­tion in the base­ment of the Cap­it­ol, in HC-8.

(There has been talk of the House’s chief ad­min­is­trat­ive of­ficer find­ing Can­tor some oth­er niche as a “ma­jor­ity lead­er emer­it­us” on the first floor of the Cap­it­ol. But a space crunch, caused by renov­a­tions else­where on Cap­it­ol Hill, and the de­mands for such things as space for the new se­lect com­mit­tee on Benghazi are crimp­ing avail­able of­fice space.)

“Have you ever tried to move a Cap­it­ol Hill of­fice?” one seni­or lead­er­ship aid said. “It’s one of the most miser­able ex­per­i­ences pos­sible. It takes forever to box everything up.”

“But we’ll be fully en­gaged next week,” Rep. Den­nis Ross, picked by Scal­ise to be a mem­ber of his seni­or whip team, said Fri­day. In fact, the Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an said the first test for the new whip team will be work on lead­er­ship’s bill to re­spond to the bor­der crisis, which faces stiff hurdles with­in the GOP Con­fer­ence.

Pre­vi­ously Scal­ise had been serving as chair­man of the largely con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, which boasts more than 170 mem­bers. But it re­mains to be seen wheth­er Boehner and his lead­er­ship team — with the Louisi­anan on board — will now have any firmer hold over the of­ten rowdy right wing of the GOP Con­fer­ence.

“It’s a tough first test,” agreed Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who pre­dicted that Scal­ise will get a load of help in this maid­en ef­fort from Mc­Carthy and his old whip team.

As of Fri­day, mean­while, the name­plates out­side all of these of­fices re­mained as they have been. That in­cludes Can­tor’s name, along with the title of ma­jor­ity lead­er, on the door of a ce­re­mo­ni­al of­fice just across the hall from the House cham­ber.

Can­tor has for weeks scaled back his vis­ible activ­it­ies, such as ap­pear­ing with oth­er GOP lead­ers in front of mi­cro­phones after closed-door con­fer­ences or en­ga­ging on the floor with Hoy­er over the up­com­ing week’s agenda. In that, he has already de­ferred to Mc­Carthy.

And as of Fri­day, no GOP events or parties were planned this week to com­mem­or­ate the ac­tu­al turnover in lead­er­ship. A closed-door GOP con­fer­ence set for Tues­day may or may not even make note of it, aides said.

This new era could well be a short one. That’s be­cause the House is sched­uled to have just 10 ad­di­tion­al le­gis­lat­ive days in Septem­ber, and then two more days in Oc­to­ber, be­fore break­ing again un­til after the Nov. 4 elec­tions. And then, House Re­pub­lic­ans both reelec­ted and newly elec­ted will vote on a lead­er­ship team for the next Con­gress.

Per­haps re­call­ing what had happened to Can­tor, Mc­Carthy and Scal­ise are hold­ing off on the trum­pets. Lar­son says a de­scrip­tion of Con­gress giv­en to him once by Rep. John Con­yers may best ex­plain it

“The thing about this place,” Lar­son said, “is they bury the bod­ies warm. I was a fresh­man. That’s the first thing he told me.”

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