Representative Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican seen as a potential contender to replace Eric Cantor as U.S. House majority leader, says he won’t campaign for the post.
The decision helps clear the path for the No. 2 position in the House for Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, whose bid Cantor is backing, and leaves the small-government Tea Party movement with one fewer candidate for a top leadership spot.
The sudden opening in one of the most influential jobs in Washington stems from Cantor’s surprise loss of a primary election contest June 10 in his home district in Virgina.
McCarthy’s main competition is Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who says he can unite the party.
“We, several times, have found ourself tangled in our ability to get all of our team together,” Sessions told reporters today in Washington. “I can bring us together.”
Representative Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican backing the 49-year-old McCarthy, said McCarthy has enough support to win.
“It’s over,” McHenry said.
Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican 2012 vice presidential nominee, will support McCarthy following Hensarling’s announcement, said a Republican aide who asked for anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Representative Randy Weber, a Sessions supporter, warned about the danger of counting votes before the leadership election is held next week.
“Eric Cantor thought he had it locked up, too, back in his own district,” said Weber, a Texas Republican.
House leaders have set a June 19 election for the Republican caucus to select a new leader, the swiftness of the contest seen as a boon to McCarthy’s chances of securing it.
“It’s important that we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time,” House Speaker John Boehner said.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, hasn’t publicly backed a candidate. He told reporters today, “I can work with whoever they select.”
A McCarthy victory would open up a race for majority whip, the No. 3 leadership position McCarthy now holds. The whip is responsible for counting votes and “whipping” up support for legislation.
At least three Republicans are seeking that position: Peter Roskam of Illinois, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana.
Roskam, 52, was elected to the House in 2006 and has been chief deputy whip since 2011.
Scalise, 48, is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of lawmakers that backs policies designed to appeal to the party’s base, including budget cuts and replacements for Obamacare.
Stutzman, 37, was elected in 2010, when a wave of Tea Party candidates helped Republicans win a majority of House seats. He was ultimately unsuccessful in a push to separate food-stamp policy from agriculture subsidies in the farm bill, which would have broken up a decades-old political alliance.
Hensarling’s decision leaves Sessions as McCarthy’s main challenger. Sessions has signaled that he will make border security a central issue in his bid for the leadership post.
Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, said McCarthy has “got this pretty wrapped up.”
McCarthy can “bring a sense of continuity,” Kinzinger, who is backing McCarthy, said in an interview. “He’s good at his job. He has a lot of trust with members.”
Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma predicted today that McCarthy will win the contest.
Lucas said he saw McCarthy, “in a very aggressive fashion, work the floor yesterday, all day long.” Based on “the expression on his face, he seems to be in a great state of mind,” Lucas said.
Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, took another view. “Pete Sessions will be the next majority leader,” he said.
Hensarling comes from a Republican-leaning state, which many within the caucus see as underrepresented in leadership.
Boehner has called on his caucus to seize this leadership choice as an opportunity for unity. A contest between McCarthy and Hensarling might have exposed the political divisions within the party that controls the House as candidates head into midterm elections.
Republicans expect to hold control of the House and are seeking to gain a Senate majority.
“Although I am humbled by the calls, e-mails, and conversations from my colleagues encouraging me to return to leadership for the remainder of the 113th Congress, I will not be a candidate for majority leader next week,” Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement released by his office today.
(An earlier version of this story was corrected because the wrong lawmaker was identified as planning to make border security a central issue.)
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at email@example.com Laurie Asseo