U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor plans to step aside from his leadership post following his primary election loss, as competing Republicans line up to seek his No. 2 position in a caucus vote set for June 19.
“All politics are local,” said Cantor, planning to step aside as majority leader on July 31 yet finish his term as a congressman from Virginia through the year’s end. “I just came up short and the voters elected another candidate.”
“This town should be about trying to strike common ground,” Cantor told reporters in a news conference.
Among those expected to seek Cantor’s job is House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the chamber’s third-ranking Republican and one of Cantor’s closest allies, one lawmaker said. Cantor endorsed him for the post.
The speed of the scheduled leadership election should make McCarthy the prohibitive favorite -- as the vote will be limited to that one post and the House speaker has called on his caucus to make this a moment for unity.
Nevertheless, Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, is planning to run for majority leader as well.
Following an election upset for Cantor that included a debate over immigration, Sessions said he’ll make securing the nation’s borders the main focus of his bid for majority leader.
‘‘I’ve led our team before,” said Sessions, who ran the National Republican Congressional Committee for House election campaigns in 2010 and 2012. “I’ve led our team to victory.”
Other names are being advanced. Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the Financial Services Committee chairman, would be a “dream candidate” for Cantor’s post, said Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, chairwoman of the House Republican conference and the top Republican woman in House leadership, said in a statement she will stay in her current position.
House Republicans held a private meeting today and agreed on the immediate date for their sudden leadership election. Boehner left that meeting without commenting to reporters, allowing Cantor to stand on his own before a blue banner bearing the printed message: “An America That Works.”
Boehner, in the closed-door meeting with his caucus, said Cantor had been with him from the start and there was no one who worked harder, according to a participant in the meeting. Boehner quoted Winston Churchill as saying success is not final, failure not fatal -- it’s courage that counts.
Boehner urged his caucus to view this as a time for unity, focusing on the failures of President Barack Obama’s policies and present a viable alternative to the American public.
“No one expected this to happen,” Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, said of the Virginia lawmaker’s election defeat, “and we’ve got to put the train back on the track as fast as we can.”
Cantor, who overwhelmingly outspent an intra-party rival, lost a Virginia congressional primary election yesterday to Tea Party-backed David Brat, a college professor who attacked the seven-term lawmaker’s stance on immigration.
Cantor had been considered the front-runner to become the next speaker of the House, succeeding John Boehner of Ohio.
The speaker had made no push for Cantor to step aside, according to a Republican lawmaker close to Boehner. This lawmaker also called McCarthy the clear favorite to succeed the majority leader. As for Boehner’s own position, Representative Steve Stivers, a fellow Ohio Republican, said: “It’s more important than ever that he stay around for continuity.”
Cantor’s historic election defeat -- no House majority leader had lost re-election back home since the post was created in 1899 -- spurred an instant struggle for power at the highest levels of the Republican-run House in Washington.
Representatives Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican who serves as the House’s chief deputy whip, and Steve Scalise of Louisiana will run for whip, according to Republican aides familiar with their plans.
Republicans from Southern states have complained for some time that they don’t have anyone in leadership from a state that voted for a Republican running against President Barack Obama. Now, some sense a moment to make that happen.
“If you look at the geographic locations of our leadership, there’ll be one particular area that’s short that represents about 45 percent of the conference, so you make your own determination,” said Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland.
The current House Republican leadership comes from states that backed Obama’s election twice: Boehner from Ohio, Cantor from Virginia, McCarthy of California, and McMorris Rodgers of Washington.
Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Richmond, Virginia, with a doctorate in economics and master’s degree in divinity, challenged Cantor as sympathetic to attempts by House leaders to enact immigration laws that President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats are seeking.
Brat characterized Cantor as an influential Washington player paying attention to his role as a leader rather than voters in Virginia. Relatively low turnout in a congressional primary enabled Brat’s motivated allies to outnumber any support that Cantor could claim, with the newcomer defeating the veteran lawmaker by more than 10 percentage points.
“You can’t run campaigns from Washington,” Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
The prospects for revamping the nation’s immigration laws aren’t all that are dashed by the impending House leadership struggle and the ways in which Republicans will interpret the implications of Cantor’s loss, he said.
“A lot of things are going to be dead,” King said. “Thank God there’s no debt-ceiling vote coming up.”
In his election campaign, Brat made compromise over raising the nation’s debt limit one of his complaints about Cantor’s leadership in Washington.
The last vote to raise the debt ceiling was cast in February 2014. Another vote isn’t expected to be necessary until the middle of 2015, following midterm elections in which Republicans are attempting to grab control of the Senate and keep their House majority.
Cantor’s willingness to negotiate was one of his strengths, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. President Gary Cohn. “For financial markets and for Main Street and Wall Street, that’s an issue that we’re dealing with today more than we were dealing with yesterday at this time,” Cohn said in an interview on Bloomberg Television today.
“Eric stood out on some of the tough issues,” Cohn said. “He stood out on immigration. He was willing to talk about immigration. He was willing to talk about tax reform. He was willing to talk about the environment. He was willing to talk about sticky issues that were sticky for Republicans.”
The Virginia upset followed a lopsided contest: Cantor reported raising $5.4 million for his campaign through May 21 while Brat raised $207,000, in the latest data available at the Federal Election Commission.
Cantor’s campaign aired 1,038 television ads, some attacking Brat as a “liberal college professor.” The professor’s campaign ran 65 ads, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks ads.
Cantor, who met with a group of current and former aides at the Capitol this morning, told them he has no intention of mounting a write-in campaign to keep his seat, now that his party has chosen another nominee. He told friends to forgo any long faces or tears, according to a participant in the talk.
The outgoing majority leader told his trusted aides that his top goal now is finding them good jobs elsewhere. As one door closes, the participant heard him say, another opens.