Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., won his leadership race Thursday in a decisive victory and will become the next majority leader of the House of Representatives.
McCarthy’s rise comes on the heels of his colleague and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s, R-Va., crushing primary defeat last week.
McCarthy, considered more moderate than Cantor, managed to appeal to a large swath of the caucus for his election.
McCarthy won the majority leader post against tea-party-backed Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who built his insurgent campaign over the weekend on the promise that he would be a more inclusive leader for the party. Yet, McCarthy had the race locked down early on. As the Republican's chief vote counter, McCarthy had established deep relationships with members while Labrador reportedly did not even have a comprehensive list of his colleagues’ phone numbers when it came time to campaign.
"For some of our members they have to understand that if the job of the majority leader were to get everyone to vote no, then the other guy would have won the race," says Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. "Some of our members with the harder edges have a harder time getting to yes. The perfect is always the enemy of the good, incremental process is tantamount to capitulation and therefore it is hard to lead when that is how you view the world."
Labrador did, however, have the backing of anti-establishment conservative groups like FreedomWorks which had been advocating on his behalf.
"Rep. Labrador's impressive performance is indicative of a growing liberty caucus that is ready to make a policy agenda of individual liberty and fiscal responsibility a priority in the House,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a release following the vote. “We are looking forward to an even bigger group of liberty leadership candidates after the elections in November."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has already said he intends to run for another term as speaker. Yet, if he turns over the gavel, McCarthy's victory now positions the 49-year-old California congressman to become the next House speaker.
While the contest for majority leader went off as expected, the contest for whip, the person who counts votes for the caucus, was a bit more contentious.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., ultimately prevailed and won the contest in the first round of votes giving conservatives in the House a victory to point to. Scalise defeated deputy whip and establishment pick Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and tea-party backed Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. Scalise served as the leader of the Republican Study Committee, another House leadership post, and will now pass the torch to another conservative leader.
“We built a strong team that was representative our entire conference,” Scalise said following his win. “This is a win for America because we are going to be a more united team moving forward.”
While Congress remains gridlocked this election year, the new leadership team in the House has a slew of legislative action items to tackle.
With few legislative days left, the House must vote on a proposal to reduce the backlog in veterans health care and a series of spending bills by the end of the session. And that to-do list doesn't even include more contentious issues, like immigration reform which has divided the caucus in the past.