Republicans pick Californian congressman as House majority leader

Party whip promoted in snap election following Cantor’s shock defeat

Kevin McCarthy (49) has been promoted to the role of majority leader in the lower chamber of the US Congress. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Kevin McCarthy (49) has been promoted to the role of majority leader in the lower chamber of the US Congress. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 01:00

The third most senior Republican in the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy has been promoted to the role of majority leader in the lower chamber of the US Congress in a hastily-convened ballot following the shock defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor.

Mr McCarthy (49), the four-term congressman from California and the Republican majority whip, was elected majority leader, second in the party’s chain of command to John Boehner, Speaker of the Republican-controlled House, in a victory for the party establishment over a candidate from the rebellious conservative faction.

Seeing off his sole rival, Raul Labrador, a conservative congressman from Idaho, Mr McCarthy’s rise to the position of majority leader is the fastest in American politics, according to the Washington Post. He was first elected to Congress less than eight years ago.

In a minor win for the party’s conservative wing, Steve Scalise, a congressman from Louisiana, was elected to Mr McCarthy’s role of majority whip.

Mr Scalise, chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee, an internal party group with strong conservative support, had been a slight favourite for the role given that he represented a southern state and that the two more senior party leaders hailed from states that had voted for President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.

Mr McCarthy’s role as whip gave him an edge over Mr Labrador as he used his close ties with party members and deputy whips to garner enough votes in a secret ballot of the 233 House Republicans.

Boehner ally

The Californian politician is a loyal ally of Mr Boehner and was close to Mr Cantor whose defeat by a Tea Party challenger in a primary election, the first such loss by a majority leader since the office was created 115 years ago, unexpectedly threw open the Republican leadership succession race in the House.

Mr Cantor of Virginia, who will step down as majority leader on July 31st, had been tipped to succeed Mr Boehner amid speculation that the Speaker might depart later this year following the long-running internal struggles between the party’s establishment and conservative wings.

In the vacuum left by Mr Cantor’s defeat in a primary election to a little-known Tea Party challenger, the chances of Mr Boehner retiring any time soon now seems remote.

Mr McCarthy’s election to a key leadership role puts him in a pole position to take up the party’s lead role of Speaker of the House should Republicans retain control of the chamber in November’s midterm elections and if Mr Boehner chooses to retire some time thereafter.

His move up the Republican leadership ladder will please immigration reform advocates because of his support for giving legal status to almost 12 million illegal immigrants living in the US, including an estimated 50,000 Irish.