Cantor loss sparks GOP frenzy

The jockeying among Republicans to replace Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.) as House majority leader began Wednesday within hours of his stunning primary loss.

The No. 3 Republican, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), is expected to seek Cantor’s post as majority leader, the second-ranking post behind Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

ADVERTISEMENT
But he faced an immediate challenge from a Texas conservative, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

Sessions, the chairman of the House Rules Committee and a former GOP campaign chief, began making calls to colleagues after Cantor’s loss, seeking support in his bid for majority leader, according to a person close to the congressman.

Sessions said his tenure as Rules chairman and campaign chief proved his conservative credentials.

He said he expected the GOP leadership to announce the date of the elections at the conference meeting this afternoon.

The Texas Republican also said he would make border security a priority if he were in charge of the floor agenda.

"I think my strength is that I am a well-known conservative who will push for and want to have an agenda that I will go get the votes for that is conservative, that is pro-business and solves the problems of the country. And I think that our focus on that will need to start with the border," Sessions said.

The wrangling follows Cantor’s shocking upset at the hands of Tea Party challenger David Brat, who defeated the heir apparent to Boehner.

When exactly Cantor’s post will be vacant remains in question, and he and other top GOP leaders were meeting behind closed doors at the Capitol on Wednesday morning.

House Republicans also called a closed-door meeting of their full conference for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Cantor could serve out his term as majority leader or step down from the leadership immediately.

The race to fill McCarthy’s position as whip heated up as well, as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) moved rapidly to challenge Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the chief deputy whip who has been eyeing the spot for months.

“He’s in for the whip’s race,” a source close to Roskam said on Wednesday.

Scalise is chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and a GOP aide said on Wednesday that as soon as Cantor’s loss became official, he began receiving calls from colleagues urging him to run for majority whip.

“Obviously, no one saw Leader Cantor losing yesterday,” the aide said. “It was a tectonic shift that caught everyone off-guard.”

Scalise had been laying the groundwork for the race in the event Boehner decided to retire at year’s end, but he is now prepared to run whenever the opening occurs.

“Regardless of Leader Cantor’s position, he’s ready to go,” the aide said.

The fourth-ranking Republican, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), also wants to be in the mix for either whip or majority leader, but she did not immediately announce her plans on Wednesday.

One prominent Republican who will not be making a leadership bid is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee.

“With respect to elected leadership, Congressman Ryan hasn’t changed his thinking,” a source close to Ryan said in an email. “When asked earlier this year about pursuing the position of Speaker of the House, Congressman Ryan was emphatic that he had no intention of doing so. His focus is on chairing the House Budget Committee and representing the 1st district of Wisconsin.”

Despite rampant speculation that he would soon retire, Boehner has said publicly and privately he is running for another term as Speaker. And his aides made clear that Cantor’s loss did not change his plans, and the development could make it more likely he would stay because of a lack of an obvious successor.

Another potential contender, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), issued a statement Wednesday praising Cantor while acknowledging he had been approached about mounting a leadership bid. Hensarling is chairman of the Financial Services Committee and served as chairman of the Republican conference until 2013.

"Eric Cantor is a friend and ally on many fronts," he said. "He was, is, and will continue to be a good leader and servant for his district and our nation, and I am grateful for his service. While one chapter will ultimately close for him, I know that Eric will continue to work to advance the cause of freedom."

Hensarling has played coy in recent weeks when asked whether he might challenge or seek to succeed Boehner.

“I am humbled by the many people who have approached me about serving our Republican conference in a different capacity in the future," he said. "There are many ways to advance the causes of freedom and free enterprise, and I am prayerfully considering the best way I can serve in those efforts.”

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a vocal conservative gunning to be chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told reporters he wily support Hensarling for majority leader but did not know if he would run.

— This story was last updated at 2:20 p.m.

Cristina Marcos contributed to this story.