POLITICS
06/19/2014 03:15 pm ET Updated Jun 20, 2014

House Republicans Elect Kevin McCarthy To Replace Eric Cantor As Majority Leader

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans chose Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as their new majority leader on Thursday, a week after Rep. Eric Cantor said he would resign from the post following his primary defeat in Virginia's 7th district.

McCarthy, who until now held the third most powerful post in GOP leadership as the majority whip, won his seat after a secret ballot election. His only challenger was conservative Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who failed to gain traction after launching his bid late in the game.

McCarthy began campaigning for the job almost immediately after Cantor's June 10 loss to his tea party-backed challenger, David Brat. Within days, McCarthy had collected key endorsements and locked down a majority of votes.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, won his bid to replace McCarthy as majority whip. His victory over Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), McCarthy's chief deputy whip, marks a victory for the more right-wing faction of the party, given that some viewed Roskam as an establishment candidate.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) emerged from a nearly two-hour meeting with his conference to congratulate the new members of his leadership team.

“Competition is a good thing,” he said.

Ahead of the elections, some conservative analysts cautioned against replacing Cantor with McCarthy, arguing that Republicans were ignoring the main lesson of Cantor’s primary defeat: voters are frustrated with the current leadership in Washington.

"It would be bizarre if instead of going in a new direction after this stunning defeat, House Republicans just rallied around Cantor's own pick," Philip Klein wrote in The Washington Examiner. "It would be beyond tone-deaf. It would be pure absurdity."

Rank-and-file Republicans disagreed, pointing out that McCarthy is a widely popular figure within the conference who, as whip, has built relationships with members across the spectrum.

"He's a very accessible guy, people like him," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). "I think he's got a network through the conference because of the whip team that's unparalleled."

"I think we're all conservatives here ... there's different degrees of style and substance," said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). "You're not going to see any major policy changes under McCarthy."

McCarthy refuted the claim himself shortly after the election, when a reporter questioned whether he'll be able to appeal to conservatives while hailing from a blue state like California.

"They elected the grandson of a cattle rancher, son of fireman. They elected a guy that's only grown up through the grassroots," McCarthy said. "They elected a guy who's spent his time going around recruiting many of these individuals to get to the majority."

McCarthy and Scalise are only guaranteed to keep their jobs until November, at which point House Republicans will vote on who their leadership should be for the next two years. Some lawmakers speculated that the new leadership team will stay intact for the next Congress if Republicans do well in their races back home.

“If we have a strong election in November, I think that would certainly help the current leadership team who was elected now,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).

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