The tea party threw Eric Cantor out of Congress in part by hammering him for not being conservative enough. As a result, they’re likely to get a new House majority leader whom they don’t perceive to be any more conservative than the Virginia Republican.
The clear favorite to succeed him is House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who’s running against House Rules Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) in the June 19 election. McCarthy has won endorsements from Cantor and House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI). In addition, Reps. Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL) told TPM they’re supporting McCarthy.
Guardians of tea party purity rank McCarthy as about as conservative, or slightly less, than Cantor. Heritage Action gives him a 50 percent lifetime average to Cantor’s 54 percent lifetime average for casting conservative votes. The Club For Growth in 2013 gave Cantor a 68 percent score and McCarthy a 53 percent score; in 2012 they each had 66 percent.
“The way that they operate with issues is going to be the same,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) told reporters. “There’ll be a lot of continuity because Kevin worked so closely with Eric. … Kevin knows how Eric’s operation works. So you’ll see a lot of similarities.”
One of the issues that right-wing luminaries like Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter used to damage Cantor was his overtures toward passing some sort of immigration reform (although pro-reform advocates say Cantor was hardly a champion of the cause). But McCarthy has been somewhat more vocal than Cantor about overhauling immigration and granting undocumented people a path to legal status. McCarthy’s Bakersfield-area district is 35 percent Hispanic; Cantor’s Richmond-area district is 5 percent Hispanic.
There is already tea party angst over McCarthy’s probable ascent. On Thursday Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Steve King (R-IA) called on leadership to delay the June 19 election for majority whip so that they can draft a candidate who opposes “amnesty.” Some right-leaning House Republicans tried — but failed — to push conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) to run for the post.
That complicates the race for majority whip if McCarthy vacates the office. The right flank is likelier to want one of their preferred members to step into the role.
In anticipation of a McCarthy victory, three Republicans are already jockeying for his position: Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam, the chief deputy whip; Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, chair of the deeply conservative Republican Study Committee; and Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman.
Roskam is leadership’s preference. Scalise and Stutzman are upstart right-wing hopefuls. Numerous House Republicans surveyed by TPM declined to endorse anyone in the possible election for whip. But some top Republicans are wary of candidates like Scalise and Stutzman — who sometimes vote against leadership — stepping into a role where their job is to unite the conference behind leadership’s initiatives.
“One of the things that people have to remember, as a deputy whip right now, you’ve got to get people to vote for things like procedural votes. You’ve got to get people to make difficult decisions on things like the debt limit and how we’re going to keep the government open,” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), a deputy majority whip, told reporters. “So if you don’t have a history of voting for those things it’s going to be very difficult to convince yourself and others to do that.”
Nunes — who famously slammed recalcitrant House Republicans as “lemmings” during the government shutdown — said the far-right of the party is implacable.
“The more exotic members in here — they don’t like any of the candidates,” the congressman said. “So there’s no way to please folks that can’t even run a candidate of their own but they want to run out to the media and complain.”