Republicans elected Kevin McCarthy of California as U.S. House majority leader, promoting a member of Speaker John Boehner’s leadership team seen as a friend to business and Wall Street, and chose Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana to succeed McCarthy as majority whip.
McCarthy will replace Representative Eric Cantor, who plans to resign the No. 2 leadership post July 31 following his surprise loss in a Virginia Republican primary election to a Tea Party-backed opponent.
To replace McCarthy in the No. 3 job, Republicans today chose Scalise on the first ballot in a three-way contest to serve as the vote-counting whip. He received a standing ovation, according to a person familiar with the election.
The new leaders emerged from a closed-door session with a show of unity evidenced in the succession of quick votes.
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“America is struggling,” McCarthy said after the vote. “I will work every single day to make sure this conference has the courage to lead and the wisdom to listen.”
McCarthy defeated his sole competitor in the contest, Raul Labrador of Idaho, during a secret-ballot vote of House party members, said Riva Litman, a spokeswoman for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“This was about a candidate who can try to bring people together and get to an affirmative resolution,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican. “That’s the job. And some of our members with the harder edges have a hard time getting to yes.”
Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said McCarthy is “good on our issues” and “highly regarded among the membership, and you have to have that to do that job, and he has razor-sharp political as well as public policy instincts.”
And Scalise, Reed said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend, is “one of the ones who’s been leading the way on making sure that the Republicans present a positive alternative to Obamacare rather than simply being anti-Obamacare.”
McCarthy spoke extemporaneously after the vote about the need for the caucus to come together, a person familiar with the election said. Following a swift vote of approval, the contest began to replace him as House whip.
Scalise gathered dozens of allies in the Energy and Commerce hearing room for a pep talk before marching in a phalanx of allied lawmakers to a House office building for the vote. Staffers carried clipboards that said “Geaux Scalise” to promote the Louisiana lawmaker’s bid.
“We’ve got solid conservative solutions” to problems facing Americans, Scalise said after the voting. “We built a strong team that was representative of our entire conference.”
The other whip candidates were Representatives Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and Peter Roskam of Illinois.
“It was cordial and positive,” Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican supporting Scalise, said of the whip contest. “Right now we’re in an afterglow.”
Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican and Tea Party caucus member, pointed out that Scalise won on the first ballot.
“That says that Steve Scalise has broad support among the members and that’s a good thing that it was over in one ballot and now we come together in unity,” King said. “There’s a strong consensus in our conference. That means they’re our leaders.”
At rival Roskam’s office, allied Representative Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican, had recited Proverbs 21:31 -- “The horse is made ready for battle but victory belongs to the Lord.”
Today’s leadership election is seen as stabilizing, at least temporarily, a House caucus that was stunned by Cantor’s June 10 loss in a primary to college professor David Brat, who is aligned with the Tea Party movement that seeks to restrict the federal government’s size and influence.
Cantor, a seven-term House member who became majority leader in 2011, lost to Brat, a political newcomer who raised $207,000 to Cantor’s $5.4 million through May 21. Brat criticized Cantor for compromising on such issues as raising the U.S. debt limit, and accused the majority leader of backing an immigration-law revamp that opponents call “amnesty.”
McCarthy, a friend of Cantor, has a 92 percent lifetime rating with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, compared with 82 percent for Labrador.
A former sandwich shop owner, McCarthy, 49, has worked for years to build relationships with small business. He has served for six years on the Financial Services Committee, and his top donor is Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US)
His Bakersfield home at the southern end of California’s Central Valley is about 250 miles from Silicon Valley, which helped him collect more cash from the technology industry than any Republican other than Boehner.
Labrador argued that Republicans shouldn’t elevate a member of the same leadership team “that has failed to bridge the divide with Republicans outside Washington.”
Cantor’s loss is expected to stall House action on immigration legislation, which in turn may harm the party’s standing among Latino voters before the 2016 presidential election. President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012.
In the November congressional elections, Republicans are seeking to keep their House majority and take control of the Senate from Democrats. Boehner had urged fellow Republicans to use their choice for majority leader as an opportunity for unity.
Scalise, 48, positioned himself as a compromise candidate with a history of working with business-aligned members as well as those with ties to the Tea Party.
Roskam, 52, has been the chief deputy whip. Stutzman, 37, was the contender most closely aligned with the Tea Party.
Scalise is the only one of the three from a state that voted for Republican presidential candidates rather than Obama in 2008 and 2012. Boehner of Ohio and McCarthy of California come from states that supported Obama in both elections.
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