WASHINGTON — House Republicans reached for continuity and stability Thursday in electing a new leadership team, promoting a Californian of moderate temperament to No. 2 and a more conservative Louisianian who has the loyalty of the tea party as No. 3 in an effort to quell dissent in their restive ranks.
In decisive votes that followed the stunning primary election defeat last week of the majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Republicans largely embraced the status quo, elevating Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California to majority leader, and replacing him as the whip with Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a leader of the House conservative block. The leadership vote — which took place in a backroom as Speaker John Boehner and other lawmakers puffed cigarettes behind the closed doors in violation of House rules — should ease some of the tension that left many hard-line conservatives, especially those from the South, feeling shut out of leadership.
“The discussion that’s been had for the past four years has been the issue of red state representation throughout the conference, especially at the leadership table,” said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia. “I think this is unifying.”
The votes Thursday also seemed to ensure that Boehner will, for now, remain safe in his position leading the fractious Republican conference. Though some members in the right flank are already talking about revisiting the party’s leadership after the midterm elections, the seamless elevation of McCarthy into the No. 2 slot signaled that it would take an electoral disaster or intraparty fight to overturn the new team.
McCarthy seemed delighted and eager to assume his new role.
“I will work every single day to make sure this conference has the courage to lead with the wisdom to listen,” he said. “And we’ll turn this country around.”
That Scalise was able to win with just one round of voting after a heated contest with Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, who as McCarthy’s chief deputy whip was next in line, was a sign that House Republicans understood they could not ignore calls for a Southern lawmaker to join their top tier. Had Roskam won, the top three positions would have been filled by lawmakers from Ohio, California and Illinois — all states that President Barack Obama won in the 2008 and 2012 elections.
In the days since Cantor’s defeat, conservative members and activist groups had argued that Republicans were being neglectful and even dismissive of the wing of the party that was largely responsible for their recent victories.
Scalise said after the vote, “We built a very strong team, a team that’s very representative of our entire conference, which shows that our conference wants to move forward even stronger.”
But not all Republicans were satisfied. Some of the more conservative members left the meeting frustrated, having been outmaneuvered by Boehner and his allies. He called the leadership elections last week, giving anyone who wanted to organize a campaign to oppose McCarthy little time to gather support.