No sooner had Rep. Eric Cantor announced on Wednesday that he was resigning as House majority leader than the maneuvering to succeed him and also to fill the soon-to-be-open slot of majority whip began among House Republicans.
Although there are likely to be other candidacies for the No. 2 and No. 3 slots in the House GOP leadership before the elections on June 19, early signs following a closed-door meeting of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday pointed to Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California as the favorite to succeed Cantor and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana taking McCarthy's post as whip.
Cantor's exodus as majority leader, which followed his stunning defeat for renomination in Virginia's 7th District on Tuesday, has created a rare battle royal for positions of power in the House before the November elections rather than after.
Normally, the new class of House Republicans meets following the election to choose their leadership. But with Cantor leaving now, the current 233 Republican representatives, at least 28 of whom will not be returning in the next Congress, will pick the new majority leader and whip. As of today, 26 are retiring or seeking other offices; two — Cantor and Ralph Hall of Texas — were defeated in primaries; and others are likely to be defeated in November.
With McCarthy relinquishing his current position regardless of the outcome of his bid for majority leader, the front-runner to succeed him is Scalise, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee and a stalwart conservative.
What would make a McCarthy-Scalise duo particularly interesting, several observers told Newsmax, is that while the Californian is very much "Mr. Inside" and the favorite of the GOP "establishment" led in the House by Speaker John Boehner, Scalise, in sharp contrast, is considered "Mr. Outside" and a hero to the tea party and other conservative activists.
At the press conference where which he announced his resignation, Cantor strongly endorsed his "dear friend" McCarthy as majority leader. A former GOP leader of the California State Assembly, McCarthy has raised $2.9 million in his campaign war chest and doled out considerable donations to colleagues in the last few election cycles.
Likened half in jest by colleagues to Frank Underwood, the sinister House whip played by Kevin Spacey on the Netflix series "House of Cards," McCarthy is also considered a first-rate "nose-counter" on key votes in the House.
But McCarthy is also part of the same leadership team that is increasingly disliked and distrusted by younger, more conservative members.
After saying Wednesday that he was "prayerfully" considering the race, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, announced Thursday he would not run for majority leader.
Hensarling's announcement leaves Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee and a past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, as McCarthy's chief rival for the leadership slot.
Sessions will have the backing of the full Texas House delegation, which is about 10 percent of the full House GOP contingent.
In a not-so-veiled jab at McCarthy, Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a strong critic of Boehner and the current leadership team, told The Los Angeles Times that the next majority leader has "got to be somebody outside the current leadership structure. They just don't listen."
Although Scalise, widely praised on the right for mobilizing the Republican Study Committee behind key conservative issues, is the early favorite for whip, there is considerable mention of Chief Deputy Whip Pete Roskam to move up. But sources on Capitol Hill told Newsmax that Scalise already has the support of at least two GOP members from Roskam's home state of Illinois.
Former Republican Rep. Bob Livingston, who represented the same Louisiana district that Scalise currently holds, told Newsmax: "My old congressional district has been fortunate to have been represented by some very bright men since I left. Both Sen. [David] Vitter and Gov. [Bobby] Jindal were Rhodes Scholars. And Steve Scalise is an exceptional legislator with street sense. He's going to go far."
Inevitably, the absence of a woman from races for either leader or whip is sure to draw attention from the press and fuel criticism of the leadership team. Last year, Boehner and the House GOP Steering Committee came under fire when Michigan Rep. Candice Miller was passed over for chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, ostensibly because Michigan already had three powerful chairmanships. Miller was later named to chair the House Administration Committee.
But the problem for House Republicans is that no congresswoman so far has stepped up to seek the now-open positions. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, famed for delivering the televised response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address this year, announced she was staying where she is as Republican Conference chair and No. 4 in the GOP hierarchy.
"The reshuffling of the deck on June 19," former Republican Rep. Phil English of Pennsylvania told Newsmax, "will be among the most-reported stories from Capitol Hill, and one of the most telling moments for House Republicans in 2014."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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