Not 24 hours after the stunning demise of the once-rising star Eric Cantor, House Republicans already began jockeying for position to replace him as majority leader.
Cantor announced Wednesday he would resign as Majority Leader on July 31 after losing a shocking upset in his GOP primary against Tea Party-backed challenger Dave Brat. The loss was an unprecedented fall for a politician who was viewed recently as the “heir apparent” to House Speaker John Boehner. Before Cantor even made his official announcement, competing factions within the Republican Party were plotting to position themselves for leadership spots. And in just more than one week, the House will have a new majority leader when Republicans vote on Cantor’s successor June 19.
So, who’s the favourite?
The most popular name thrown around among establishment Republicans has been that of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, who is the natural successor to Cantor. However, emboldened by grassroots conservative insurgent Dave Brat’s triumph over Cantor on Tuesday night, the Tea Party-aligned wing in the House has begun assembling a roster of its own.
The most popular challengers from the Tea Party flank: Texas Reps. Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, and Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise.
“McCarthy has looked like bit of sidekick some days in the House, but in [California], he was a force to be reckoned with. I wouldn’t underestimate him,” one House GOP aide told Business Insider.
McCarthy has begun building a network of support for a run at the majority leader spot, according to multiple GOP sources. He also has the support of Cantor, who gave a full-throated endorsement of McCarthy during his farewell press conference.
Hensarling is seen as his main challenger. In a statement provided by a spokesperson, Hensarling said he has been “humbled” by fellow lawmakers approaching him about a leadership position — and that he is “prayerfully considering” what to do. He is viewed as the prohibitive favourite in that flank, because of an already wide network of support.
“Sessions [and] Scalise don’t have the kind of support Hensarling has,” one GOP aide told Business Insider.
A potential head-to-head matchup between McCarthy and Hensarling could get intense. But McCarthy is viewed as the favourite because he has done the work to build support. The leadership elections coming so soon is both a blessing and a curse for Hensarling — he can use the momentum from Brat’s big win, but it also gives him little time to build his base.
“McCarthy has the best odds because he’s a vote counter and has worked the vineyards in the event this opportunity arose,” one former GOP House aide said. “Hensarling is a legit contender, but just hasn’t done as much work on it.”
Still, multiple GOP aides and strategists speculated Hensarling could deal a knockout blow to McCarthy. One strategist sympathetic to the GOP establishment even cautioned McCarthy against running, as it could set off a chain reaction that severely damages the congressional leadership headed by House Speaker John Boehner. If McCarthy, the majority whip, runs and loses, it could potentially hand both the majority whip and majority leader spots to the Tea Party.
“Best solution is McCarthy staying and Boehner cutting a deal on Majority Leader with the RSC crowd,” the strategist said.
One former GOP leadership aide also offered a wild card: Paul Ryan, who is eyeing the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. The strategist speculated he will be pressured to make a run at majority leader, but likely will resist. As one House Democratic aide mused, though, “the Ways and Means Committee is lovely, but it’s not Speaker of the House.” The aide went on to speculate Ryan could become heir apparent to Boehner if he vies for Cantor’s title.
“Right now, I’m just disappointed that my friend lost,” Ryan said in a statement Wednesday. “Eric has worked hard on behalf of his constituents, and he’s been a leader here in the House. He’s a good friend and a great public servant.”
This post was originally published on June 11 at 6:30 p.m. ET.
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