The swift Republican election of a new U.S. House leadership team won’t heal the party’s divisions, though lawmakers say it does provide insulation from a challenge to Speaker John Boehner after the midterm election.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who has support from the technology industry and Wall Street, will replace Eric Cantor as House majority leader, a post Cantor agreed to give up after his primary defeat June 10. Republicans endorsed McCarthy Thursday in secret balloting, rejecting a bid by Raul Labrador of Idaho, a Tea Party-backed lawmaker.
The choice of McCarthy, to be succeeded as vote-counting whip by Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is seen as cementing Boehner’s control through the November election — and making it harder to unseat him and his new team after that.
“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” John Feehery, a top aide to former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, said in an interview Thursday. “Also, what members want is continuity. There could always be another candidate, but unless there’s a gigantic screw-up or if they lose a significant amount of seats, which I don’t see happening, this is going to establish your slate for next year.”
Republicans are poised to maintain control of the House in November’s election, as the party tries to gain six Senate seats and take control of the chamber from Democrats.
Lawmakers interviewed after Thursday’s election said they don’t think it resolves the criticism by Tea Party members who view House leaders as too beholden to establishment interests.
The Tea Party, the limited-government political movement advocating a reduction in the U.S. national debt, was responsible for Cantor’s loss to economics professor David Brat. The movement’s supporters wanted one of their own in leadership after Cantor leaves his position on July 31.
Disgruntled Tea Party lawmakers will have a chance in coming months to oppose House leadership on legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, replenish the Highway Trust Fund and allocate government spending for the next fiscal year.
Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican aligned with the Tea Party who has opposed Boehner’s speakership in the past, is among those saying they’re disgruntled by Labrador’s loss to McCarthy and aren’t mollified by Scalise’s elevation to House whip. One of the three candidates for the No. 3 post, Marlin Stutzman, was aligned with the Tea Party. Scalise had positioned himself as more of a compromise candidate.
“This was our best shot to change things in the House,” Amash said of the leadership vote. “November will be much more difficult, because the leadership team is already in place, it’s established, no open seats. And the ability of that leadership team to use committee assignments, chairmanships and other methods of persuasions” will protect the leaders.
Labrador said every House Republican, whether or not they voted for him, “agrees that we can do better.”
“The process needs to be improved, the committees need to work their will, and our members need to feel more relevant,” he said in a statement after the vote.
The embrace of McCarthy appeared to fulfill Boehner’s plea to his 233-member caucus to unite following Cantor’s loss.
“This was about a candidate who can try to bring people together and get to an affirmative resolution” of issues confronting the House, said Rep. 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.”
As Boehner moved for a swift vote on Cantor’s replacement, coalescing support for the Cantor-endorsed McCarthy, other potential challengers — Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions of Texas — refrained from running.
“It’s interesting the way the field cleared for McCarthy despite the unhappiness of the conservative wing of the Republican Party at not having their people,” said David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who studies Congress and elections. “It says a lot about personal relationships in the Congress and the kind of job McCarthy must have done as whip.”
McCarthy comes from Bakersfield, a growing farming center at the southern side of California’s Central Valley. Still, he has secured support from big business on both coasts.
First elected in 2006, McCarthy has drawn the backing of Silicon Valley as the technology industry has donated $211,000 to his campaigns since 2011 — more than any House Republican other than Boehner has collected. McCarthy’s top campaign donor is Goldman Sachs Group Inc., at $72,750.
McCarthy’s election will not assuage outside critics who view party leaders as too closely allied with big business.
“A rubber-stamp election of the next man in line sends exactly the wrong message to grass-roots voters and activists looking for an authentic alternative to big government Democrats,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports smaller government.
In an email before the vote, Kibbe said the group is “fully prepared to support a pro-liberty, pro-reform-minded slate of leadership candidates after the November election.”
McCarthy will help control what bills reach the House floor after he assumes his new post, and Scalise will have the job of counting votes for them. Still, there will be little time for legislating the rest of the year.
The House is scheduled to be in session and voting for only 27 days after McCarthy takes over. They’ll have all of August off and then return for just 12 days before the Nov. 4 election. There are 15 voting days scheduled afterward in November and December.
Among the issues before them: The Export-Import Bank’s authorization expires at the end of September. McCarthy supported it in 2012, though the lawmaker now responsible for whipping support in the House, Scalise, opposed it.
McCarthy will face a balancing act to avoid a second government shutdown in two years at the end of September. His new whip voted against the spending levels lawmakers are using to write appropriations bills and had pushed a budget that cut $64 billion more.
Should he continue to serve in leadership after November’s election, McCarthy will face another challenge in raising the federal debt limit in early 2015.
Rep. John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican and Tea Party caucus member, said he thinks members will give the leadership team a chance, even if they oppose them on some legislation.
“I think everyone would want to be fair and give them two years to really prove what they can do,” Fleming said. “I don’t think it would be fair to give them two or three months and then go back and do this again.”
With assistance from Kathleen Hunter, Laura Litvan, James Rowley, Erik Wasson and Jonathan Allen in Washington.