Just a week after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost in a stunning primary defeat, it was time for the House majority to fill half the slots on its leadership team. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) announced they weren’t going anywhere, leaving GOP lawmakers to choose a new Majority Leader and Majority Whip.
They met behind closed doors a couple of hours ago, and soon after, they emerged with a new leadership team. As msnbc’s Benjy Sarlin reported, things went largely according to plan.
House Republicans have chosen California Rep. Kevin McCarthy as their new majority leader, replacing the departing Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor after his surprising primary loss to David Brat.McCarthy will become the second-ranked Republican in the House after previously holding the third-ranked position of majority whip. He defeated challenger Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, a popular conservative member who participated in a failed attempt to oust Ohio Rep. John Boehner as speaker last year. The vote count was not released, either to the public or to the members themselves, but McCarthy was considered a strong favorite going in.
The more competitive contest was the three-way race to place McCarthy as House Majority Whip, and the favorite going into the vote, Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, prevailed.
In the bigger picture, I’m reminded of something a Republican source told Jake Tapper the other day: House Republicans, the source said, would likely end up with one or two people “who don’t qualify as grown-up.”
So, is that what happened? I suppose it depends on one’s definition of “grown-up.”
McCarthy, who overcame fierce criticism from conservative media, which Republicans chose to ignore, brings an underwhelming resume to the table. “McCarthy is a likeable guy. But nobody really likes him,” one report noted last week. “What’s striking about talking to Republicans about McCarthy is how few are actual supporters, rather than people who would rather he have a job than somebody they like less.”
Sam Stein added last week, “McCarthy is sort of like the same character as Cantor, in that he’s focused almost predominantly on this branding and how they can win seats in political battles. And very rarely do you associate a big piece of legislative or a big conservative ideology with him. Also, Kevin McCarthy has had some pretty epic fails when it comes to counting votes.”
And that’s the part of McCarthy’s background that strikes me as most important: he wasn’t especially good at his job as Majority Whip. Members have repeatedly praised his “light touch,” but I consider that a polite euphemism for “he never really tried very hard to actually whip votes.” He’s also never been especially interested in legislative details or the unglamorous work of policymaking.
But he was next in line; all the various party factions found him tolerable; few others wanted the gig; and so the four-term California Republican got promoted anyway. McCarthy suddenly finds himself as the Majority Leader-elect, officially taking the torch from Cantor on Aug. 1.
Given the near-constant speculation about Boehner’s possible retirement, House Republicans also very likely put McCarthy in line to be the next Speaker of the House, despite not having any real congressional accomplishments of his own.
As for Scalise, if you’re wondering which member of the GOP leadership team won’t “qualify as grown-up,” I’d probably start with the far-right Louisianan.
Scalise, for example, is a Dick Cheney admirer who believes Obama may be trying to create a “dictatorship.” The Louisiana Republican is also a big fan of debt-ceiling hostage crises, which may become quite relevant sometime in early 2015.
There’s also an unintentionally amusing story from 2012 in which Scalise fired a smart, up-and-coming Republican scholar who dared to endorse copyright reform, basically because his conservative allies and industry lobbyists told him to.
As for the near future, there’s some talk about whether the new leadership team might give immigration reform a look before the end of the year, but few seriously believe this is possible given the depth of Republican opposition to the issue. The next big challenge for the new House GOP leaders, then, will be their re-election bids – not just with voters in the fall, but with their own members soon after.