The bad news: Kevin McCarthy, the centrist Cantor deputy who’s funded by all the same people who fund his boss, is a near-lock to become the new majority leader. The good news: Once Cantor steps down on July 31st, there’ll be only 12 more legislative days until November, when the caucus will hold another leadership vote for the next term — and this time, conservatives will have time to prepare. The bummer about McCarthy winning today isn’t that he’ll do any damage before the midterms, it’s that it’ll give him a little extra time to consolidate power before the next leadership vote. Maybe a huge conservative turnout in the midterms will convince GOP fencesitters to tilt towards Jeb Hensarling, Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador, or whoever emerges as the conservative challenger to McCarthy in the fall.
The real action today is in the whip race. If McCarthy gets elected majority leader, as everyone expects, a vacancy will open up for House majority whip. There are three candidates vying for that — Pete Roskam, McCarthy’s deputy; Steve Scalise, the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee; and Marlin Stutzman, who’s running to Scalise’s right on grounds that he’s a bit too cooperative with moderates like McCarthy and Roskam. Scalise appears to have the most votes banked right now, per WaPo, but not quite enough for a majority. Roskam trails behind him and Stutzman is a distant third — but Stutzman has enough conservative support that he could play kingmaker if Scalise doesn’t win outright on the first ballot. Why might Stutzman throw his support to a moderate like Roskam instead of to a fellow conservative? Strategy:
Scalise’s tenure at the RSC has not been viewed as favorably as that of his predecessor, Jim Jordan, whom tea party faithful viewed as more loyal to their cause. Republican sources who requested anonymity so they could speak candidly on the race said there is concern that if chosen, Scalise would be more cooperative with leaders than they would like. That left the door open for another conservative alternative, Stutzman, who is now splitting the conservative vote. Roskam has expressed confidence that he will make it to the second ballot, and if Scalise beats Stutzman, some sources believe Stutzman voters could defect to Roskam so conservatives can regroup and challenge the whole establishment leadership slate in the next Congress.
In other words, since today’s election means so little in policy terms, why not make it a clean sweep of centrists at the top in Boehner, McCarthy, and Roskam? That’ll give House conservatives something to rally against in November, when the real leadership election takes place. If you elect Scalise now, Boehner and McCarthy will argue in the fall that conservatives already have a representative in a top leadership position and therefore there’s no need to focus on electing a new Speaker or majority leader. On the other hand, if Scalise wins, he’d understand that conservatives will be watching him closely as the chief bulwark against Boehner and McCarthy on things like comprehensive immigration reform. He already has a rap among some righties for being too accommodating with McCarthy. If he doesn’t resist, his time in leadership will be short. He has an incentive to play hardball.
While we wait, here’s Raul Labrador telling Fox News two days ago that he’s “close” to getting the votes he needs to upset McCarthy for majority leader. Uh huh. Exit question: House conservatives are spinning McCarthy’s win as a function of speed, i.e. that when a vacancy opens suddenly in the leadership, naturally a guy who’s already there and has built relationships with the entire caucus can move quickly to line up the votes he needs. You can’t expect righties to put together a serious challenge overnight. Okay, but I feel like there’s a new story in conservative media every week about conservatives quietly lining up votes to oust Boehner as Speaker if he makes any sudden moves on amnesty. If that’s true, why weren’t they better prepared to push someone forward as Cantor’s replacement? Why wasn’t someone — Hensarling, Jordan, whoever — already chatting with people behind the scenes about support in case Boehner suddenly moved on amnesty and the caucus decided to try to remove him? They’ve been talking about replacing Boehner for two years and yet McCarthy seems to have crushed them with 24 hours of gladhanding last week. Hmph.
Still waiting on the whip election, which might produce a surprise.
Update: Raul Labrador went out a class act:
Raul Labrador, in gesture of respect to McCarthy, asks that vote be unanimous, calls for informal vote, colleagues yell approval
— Robert Costa (@costareports) June 19, 2014
Well done, sir.
Update: Score one win for the conservatives:
This was a three-way race that could well have gone to a second round … but didn’t.