June 12 (Bloomberg) -- Republican Kevin McCarthy has a clear path toward succeeding Representative Eric Cantor as U.S. House majority leader after two top contenders withdrew their names from contention for the post.
Representatives Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling, both Texas Republicans, said separately today that they wouldn’t pursue the No. 2 position in the House. The sudden opening in one of the most influential jobs in Washington stems from Cantor’s surprise loss in a June 10 primary contest in his home district in Virginia.
Cantor announced yesterday he will step down from the leadership job on July 31, and House Republicans scheduled a June 19 vote to fill the post. Sessions said tonight he decided against seeking it after consulting with party colleagues.
“It became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party,” Sessions said in the statement. “At this critical time, we must remain unified.”
Cantor, seeking nomination to an eighth two-year term, lost his primary to a Tea Party-backed candidate. His defeat fueled concerns among Republicans that a messy succession fight, especially one that pits House leaders against the Tea Party, risked undermining the party’s strength.
Representative Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican backing the 49-year-old McCarthy, said earlier today that McCarthy has enough support to win.
“It’s over,” McHenry said.
Hensarling, who enjoys support among the limited-government Tea Party movement, announced his decision not to challenge McCarthy earlier today.
House Speaker John Boehner has called on his caucus to use the choice for a new majority leader as an opportunity for unity. A bitter contest for the post could expose the political divisions within the party that controls the House as candidates head into midterm elections.
“It’s important that we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time,” said Boehner, an Ohio Republican.
Boehner hasn’t publicly backed a candidate. He told reporters today, “I can work with whoever they select.”
Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican 2012 vice presidential nominee, decided to support McCarthy following Hensarling’s announcement, said a Republican aide who asked for anonymity to discuss private conversations.
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 the House majority. 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.
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, an Oklahoma Republican, 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.
Republicans expect to hold control of the House in November’s general elections 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.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at email@example.com Michael Shepard, Don Frederick