The Tea Party defeated U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. It probably won’t get his leadership job.
The race for Cantor’s No. 2 spot in the House hierarchy tilted further away from the small-government Tea Party movement yesterday as support consolidated around California’s Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who recruited candidates during the 2010 campaign and who would move up from the No. 3 post in leadership.
The Tea Party, a political movement advocating a reduction in the U.S. national debt, still has a shot at taking McCarthy’s current leadership spot, yet any notion that Cantor’s defeat may remake the upper ranks of the House Republican caucus faded as Speaker John Boehner moved quickly to elevate his lieutenant, McCarthy.
That didn’t sit well with some Tea Party lawmakers who made their disappointment clear, showing that tensions in Washington between the Tea Party and more centrist Republicans live on in the wake of Cantor’s primary loss.
“The grassroots just removed our majority leader and we’re going to replace him with someone who’s part of the same system?” Representative Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican aligned with the Tea Party, said in an interview. “I don’t think that’s going to satisfy conservatives at home.”
Representative Raul Labrador, one of 12 Republicans who opposed a second term for Boehner as speaker last year, said today that he’ll run against McCarthy for majority leader.
“Republicans must be willing to take these challenges head-on with new leadership, fresh ideas and a different approach,” Labrador of Idaho said in a statement. He said he would help the party “address the growing challenges of immobility amongst the poor, insecurity in the middle class and stop protecting the special interests.”
McCarthy’s path to victory was partially cleared yesterday after two top contenders withdrew their names from the race for the majority leader post.
Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the House Rules Committee, said last night he decided against running after consulting with Republican colleagues.
“It became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party,” he said in a statement.
Earlier yesterday, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican with Tea Party ties, also declined to run.
For as difficult as Cantor’s week has been -- unexpectedly losing his primary election June 10 to economics professor David Brat and the next day giving up his influential position as majority leader -- it was an extraordinary 48 hours that followed for McCarthy.
McCarthy, who opened a deli at age 19 with $5,000 in lottery winnings, benefited when Boehner scheduled a quick election. That limited the time for McCarthy’s opponents to campaign while he, as whip, already had a foundation in place.
Boehner also decided that McCarthy would have to give up his whip post only if he lost the race for majority leader.
Hensarling’s decision further helped, freeing Representative Paul Ryan, the former vice presidential nominee, to back McCarthy. McCarthy also has support from Cantor, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton.
“It’s over,” Representative Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican backing McCarthy, said of the race.
The well-liked McCarthy, known for biking and dining with fellow lawmakers, voted against $700 billion in aid for banks in 2008 and opposed the economic stimulus in 2009. He rose in the leadership ranks after the 2010 election when he helped Tea Party candidates through the “Young Guns” recruitment program he co-founded with Cantor and Ryan.
Still, as majority whip, McCarthy has been unable to persuade many Tea Party lawmakers to support some policies backed by leadership, such as the debt-ceiling increase. His rating from Heritage Action for America, a Washington-based group aligned with the Tea Party movement, is 42 percent in this legislation session, below the 62 percent average for all House Republicans.
And during McCarthy’s time as whip, the House has yet to vote on a replacement for Obamacare, one of the top policy proposals in “A Pledge to America,” the 48-page document he helped craft before the 2010 election. The House has voted to repeal the health-care law more than 50 times.
As whip, he’s also had trouble corralling enough support for bills such as aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in time to avoid embarrassing intra-party squabbles.
“We, several times, have found ourself tangled in our ability to get all of our team together,” Sessions told reporters yesterday, before announcing his decision not to run.
Sessions, 59, comes from a Republican-leaning state, which many within the Republican caucus see as underrepresented in leadership. Even so, few lawmakers outside Texas’s 24-member delegation -- the biggest group of Republicans from any state -- publicly backed him yesterday.
If McCarthy wins, that would lead to a race for majority whip, the No. 3 leadership position he now holds. Yet some in the Tea Party see that as a much less attractive job.
“Being conservative in that position doesn’t add as much as being conservative in the majority leader’s position,” Amash said.
At least three Republicans are seeking the whip job: Peter Roskam of Illinois, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana.
Roskam, 52, was elected to the House in 2006 and has been chief deputy whip since 2011.
Scalise, 48, is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of lawmakers that backs policies designed to appeal to the party’s base, including budget cuts and replacements for Obamacare.
Stutzman, 37, was elected in 2010, when a wave of Tea Party candidates helped Republicans win a majority of House seats. He was unsuccessful in a push to separate food-stamp policy from agriculture subsidies in the farm bill, which would have broken up a decades-old political alliance.
Cantor’s primary election defeat was the latest marker in an ongoing battle for control of the Republican Party between the Tea Party movement that favors spending cuts and business groups that see value in negotiating deals. A quick resolution to leadership races may avoid distractions that the party doesn’t want in an election year.
“It’s important that we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time,” Boehner said.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, hasn’t publicly backed a candidate for any of the races.
“I can work with whoever they select,” he said.
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