House

McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote

House Republicans on Wednesday overwhelmingly elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) as their new leader, rejecting a challenge from conservative Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and turning to a familiar face as they prepare to grapple with life in the minority.

McCarthy, the majority leader for the past four years, trounced Jordan in a 159-43 vote — a lopsided outcome that McCarthy allies saw as a firm rebuke of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative bomb-throwers co-founded by Jordan that frequently clashes with GOP leadership.  

{mosads}It was a good day for McCarthy, who just more than three years ago shockingly abandoned a bid for the Speakership after Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his retirement, paving the way for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to become Speaker.

The withdrawal in 2015 raised questions about McCarthy’s future, but the California Republican is now both the leader of his conference and a trusted ally of President Trump.

“We know the Democrats have a plan: They want to disrupt. They want to try to impeach. And they want to stall what achievements we were able to move forward,” McCarthy, flanked by his new leadership team, told reporters after his victory. “But we know America is too great for such a small vision.”

Earlier Wednesday, there were reports that Trump had put pressure on McCarthy to cut a deal with conservatives and make Jordan the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

But McCarthy allies said there would be a revolt in the conference if Jordan was handed the prized Judiciary post after suffering a blowout in the leader race. The leadership-aligned Republican Steering Committee will pick their committee leaders after Thanksgiving.

“There would be a lot of people who would have conversations with Leader McCarthy if Jordan was rewarded with a ranking member spot due to pressure from the president and our leadership team to try to steer the Steering Committee,” one McCarthy ally told The Hill.

Republican lawmakers also selected Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) by voice vote to be minority whip, the No. 2 Republican.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, will succeed GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), who opted not to run for a fourth term in leadership. At the No. 3 spot, Cheney is now the highest-ranking woman in GOP leadership in the Capitol.

Both Scalise and Cheney ran unopposed.

In other uncontested races, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), a Baptist preacher and leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee, was elected GOP conference vice chairman, while current GOP Conference Secretary Jason Smith (R-Mo.) won another two years in that post.

Meanwhile, Republicans picked Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) to lead candidate recruitment and campaign efforts as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee as the GOP tries to win back the majority in 2020.

In the only other competitive race, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) defeated fellow Freedom Caucus member Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) in the race for GOP Policy Committee chairman.

The election of McCarthy, the 53-year-old former deli owner and congressional aide, hands the reins of leadership to a proven fundraiser who speaks to Trump on a weekly basis.

For the past several election cycles, McCarthy had barnstormed every corner of the country, campaigning and raising millions of dollars for current and future GOP colleagues — efforts that he called in this week as he ran for the top GOP slot.

A day earlier, McCarthy made his pitch to colleagues as to why he was the right man to lead the party back to the majority in two years. Republicans, he said, need to do a better job competing with Democrats on the fundraising front and picking better primary candidates who can win in the general election, according to lawmakers in the room.

“I’ve worked with Kevin since he got here, been at his chairmen’s table for four years. He’s the right guy,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who attends a weekly meeting in McCarthy’s office, told The Hill. “He’s got the contacts, he’s got that stratosphere of donors that can match Michael Bloomberg and those guys.”

McCarthy has had a rapid ascent in Washington, though it has not always been smooth.

The gregarious lawmaker got his start in politics in the late 1990s in California’s Central Valley as an aide to then-Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the powerful Ways and Means Committee chairman, whom McCarthy would later replace in Congress after a stint as minority leader in the California Assembly.

In 2008, just two years after arriving in Washington, McCarthy was catapulted into leadership when then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) tapped him to be his chief deputy whip. When a Tea Party wave swept Republicans into power in 2010, Cantor was promoted to majority leader and McCarthy won the majority whip job, the GOP’s top vote-counter and No. 3 post.

In 2014, Cantor’s shocking primary loss to Tea Party insurgent Dave Brat (R-Va.) cleared a path for McCarthy to take the majority leader post, the No. 2 job. And when Boehner quit the very next year, McCarthy was positioned to rise again.

But a major political gaffe on Fox News — suggesting the GOP had launched a special Benghazi committee to politically harm Democrat Hillary Clinton’s White House bid — proved to be an enormous setback. After the new conservative Freedom Caucus refused to back him, denying him the 218 votes he needed on the House floor, McCarthy abruptly dropped out of the Speaker’s race on the day of the leadership election and threw his support to Ryan.

After 2½ years as Speaker, Ryan in April announced his retirement from Congress, setting off a shadow campaign between his top deputies, McCarthy and Scalise, to replace him.

But that growing rivalry was put on ice after Democrats picked up more than 30 GOP House seats in last week’s midterm elections and relegated Republicans to minority status beginning in January. McCarthy had personally campaigned for most of those Republicans who lost on election night, including Reps. Kevin Yoder (Kan.), Pete Sessions (Texas), John Faso (N.Y.) and David Young (Iowa).

McCarthy’s victory Wednesday comes during a grim moment for his own California GOP delegation. Democrats have flipped four GOP-controlled seats in the Bakersfield Republican’s home state, including those held by Reps. Jeff Denham, Steve Knight and Dana Rohrabacher. And Democrats are in position to flip two more seats in Orange County, once a GOP stronghold.

If newly empowered Democrats choose Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to return as Speaker in January, it will mean both parties in the lower chamber will be controlled by leaders from the same state for the first time in history.

This story was updated at 5 p.m. 

Tags Boehner Cathy McMorris Rodgers Dana Rohrabacher David Schweikert David Young Donald Trump Eric Cantor Gary Palmer Hillary Clinton Jason Smith Jeff Denham Jim Jordan John Boehner John Faso Kevin McCarthy Kevin Yoder Liz Cheney Mark Walker Mike Conaway Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Pete Sessions Steve Knight Steve Scalise Tom Emmer
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