WASHINGTON – California Republican Kevin McCarthy secured a clear shot to becoming House majority leader Thursday as his sole rival dropped his bid in a leadership fight that exposed deep fissures within the GOP.
Barring an unforeseen challenge, McCarthy, the GOP whip, is on a glide path to the No. 2 job in the House behind Speaker John Boehner, with elections slated for June 19.
Earlier in the day, backers of the four-term congressman had spoken confidently about his prospects.
Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, in a statement late Thursday, said he had decided to abandon the race after it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party.
Within 48 hours of Rep. Eric Cantor’s primary-election downfall, McCarthy and his deputies aggressively rounded up votes with a pitch to Southern Republicans and pointed private conversations on the House floor in a race that occasionally had the markings of a personality-driven contest for class president.
Republicans sought to project an aura of unity but failed to quiet conservative complaints that such quick party elections after Cantor’s defeat gave them little time to rally around an alternative who better reflects the right’s ideology and the emboldened tea party.
The votes next Thursday for majority leader and whip may well not be the end of it. Several Republicans asserted that next week’s action won’t quiet ambitious lawmakers or factions in the GOP caucus, and leadership contests after November’s national midterm elections could produce a brand new lineup.
Cantor suffered a stunning defeat to little-known college professor Dave Brat in Tuesday’s Virginia Republican primary, a race that underscored the rift within the GOP between pragmatic, establishment conservatives and further-right contenders pressing for no-compromise ideological stances.
Cantor is the first House majority leader to lose his seat by being defeated in a party primary election since the post was created in 1899, according to Eric Ostermeier, research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.
Cantor announced Wednesday that he would step down as majority leader at the end of July. He endorsed McCarthy as his successor, and the House whip moved swiftly to secure the votes.
Another Texan with stronger bona fides in the conservative ranks, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, passed on the race Thursday, saying, After prayerful reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this is not the right office at the right time for me and my family.
If conservatives were powerless to put the brakes on McCarthy’s quick rise, they weren’t keeping quiet about their frustration.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was among several lawmakers calling on GOP leaders to put off the election, suggesting it was rigged.
Leadership’s tactic has always been call the election as fast as you can, don’t let anybody have time to organize except those who had the heads-up and the head start, King said.
The discontent seemed to irritate some of McCarthy’s supporters who mocked criticism that their candidate wasn’t conservative enough.
When they say More conservative this, more conservative that,’ it doesn’t mean anything to me. The more exotic members around here once again failed to have a candidate, they failed to show up. They don’t debate. So they don’t like any of the candidates, said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who was lining up votes for McCarthy.
They just come out here to you guys and complain, and they blog and they Facebook, but when it’s time to actually raise money and go recruit candidates and win elections so that you can stop Obama, which is what they say they want to do, they don’t have the capability of doing it, Nunes said.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., said some conservatives are never satisfied.
Boehner, asked whether he would endorse McCarthy, sidestepped the question, saying, I can work with whoever gets elected.