Starting gun fired in House Republican leadership race

Greg Nash

The abrupt resignation of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Friday is setting off a four-way race for House majority leader, the No. 2 job in the GOP conference.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is now the majority leader, is the prohibitive favorite to succeed Boehner when he relinquishes the Speaker’s gavel at the end of October, though Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is considering a challenge.

{mosads}Meanwhile, the race for GOP leader is shaping up to be a highly competitive contest between political heavyweights: Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), GOP Conference Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.).

While none of them have officially launched their bid for leader, Scalise and McMorris Rodgers — now the No. 3 and No. 4 leaders, respectively — have been jockeying for position in recent weeks. And just moments after Boehner’s surprise announcement, Sessions was reaching out to fellow GOP colleagues about “the race,” lawmakers said.

“What I’m hearing is that all four of those folks are focusing on leader,” said one GOP lawmaker with ties to leadership. “If those four folks run, those are four very strong people.”

The fact that both Scalise and McMorris Rodgers are eyeing the No. 2 job will open up more seats at the leadership table.

Four potential candidates have emerged in the race for majority whip, the No. 3 spot on the leadership ladder. Scalise’s ambitious chief deputy whip, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), was expected to seek his boss’s job. But he could face challenges from Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and former Chief Deputy Whip Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), who lost to Scalise last year in the race for GOP whip.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), who was elected as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010, on Friday added his name to the mix. Ross said he is reaching out to colleagues about running for whip if Scalise runs for leader.

It’s unclear at this point which lawmakers might run for GOP conference chair, the No. 4 spot. McMorris Rodgers could feasibly keep her current post if she is not elected GOP leader, sources said. GOP Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer (R-Ind.), who holds the No. 5 job, is taking a looking at the race in the event McMorris Rodgers moves on, sources said.

But asked about his plans Friday, Messer said he was focused on his current role leading policy for House Republicans.

“Given all the scramble, I will take a day or two to think about it,” Messer said, “but my inclination is to stay where I am.”

As for McCarthy, Messer said the majority leader would be the strong favorite in the Speaker’s race. McCarthy in recent years has been traveling the country, stumping and raising cash for GOP colleagues whose votes he’ll need in a competitive contest for the top job.

“Kevin is very good at his job and has worked very hard over a long time,” Messer said. “He has a lot of strong friendships. He would be very hard to beat.”

But McCarthy could face a red-state challenger who could make the case that McCarthy has been too cozy with Boehner and hails from the bluest of blue states, California.

Right now, the most likely challenger appears to be Hensarling, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

“Chairman Hensarling is considering his options and I expect he will have a decision early next week,” spokeswoman Sarah Rozier said.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Friday he wouldn’t run for Speaker, as did Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the conservative firebrand and Freedom Caucus co-founder who led the effort this summer to oust Boehner as Speaker.

Meadows’s Freedom Caucus colleague, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), has also said he won’t run for Speaker. McCarthy routed Labrador last year in the race for majority leader.

Another name being mentioned in the Speaker’s race is Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), the former Speaker of the Florida state House who is being recruited by conservatives to take on McCarthy. Webster lacks a whip operation, but he won 12 votes in the Speaker’s race against Boehner in January.

“Yesterday was the Pope’s day; today is Speaker Boehner’s day. Tomorrow is another day,” Webster said in a statement when asked about the Speaker’s race.

In the race for majority leader, Sessions would lean on his large Texas delegation for votes and point to his past experience as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm.

Price is another Capitol Hill veteran. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he was partially responsible for crafting the first bicameral GOP budget that passed both chambers in a decade earlier this year.

After former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost his primary election in 2014, Price was floated as a possible replacement and said at the time that he had considered a bid.

Instead, Price decided to pursue the gavel on the House Budget Committee, succeeding Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who moved up as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Spokesmen for both Price and Sessions had no comment about the leadership race.

This story was last updated at 4:52 p.m. Rebecca Shabad and Peter Schroeder contributed to this report.

Tags Boehner Cathy McMorris Rodgers Eric Cantor John Boehner Paul Ryan
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