The House Leadership Fight: A Three-Man Race

by John Fund

The fast-moving race to decide who will replace Eric Cantor as the House majority leader remains very unsettled. Yesterday, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking member of the House GOP leadership, told me she wasn’t running. “My time will come, and meanwhile I’ll keep building my team,” she says.

Majority whip Kevin McCarthy of California is moving quickly to nail down establishment support (he has the backing of Representative Paul Ryan). He also tried to cut a deal with one or more conservative challengers by which they wouldn’t run in exchange for McCarthy’s support for the whip job. McCarthy received the unofficial endorsement of Cantor yesterday, an embrace that may cost him votes from some conservative members.

Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions announced his intention to run on Wednesday and tried to rally the 24-member-strong Texas GOP congressional delegation behind him. But he was stymied by the interest in running shown by fellow Texan Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

Hensarling, a former head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told friends he and his wife will pray tonight and decide on whether or not he should run in the morning. In any event, the two men are scheduled to meet in fellow Texan representative Joe Barton’s office on Thursday. “The goal is to come out of that office with only one candidate and someone the entire Texas delegation can support at lunch tomorrow,” Representative Steve Stockman told me.

Both conservatives have advantages. Sessions led the House Republican campaign committee during the 2010 cycle, meaning he was the earliest, closest Washington GOP contact for most of that cycle’s massive 85-odd freshman class. Meanwhile, Hensarling has the support of the most fervent House conservatives, and is considered more versed in policy issues than Sessions.

McCarthy, a former minority leader of Republicans in the California assembly, is thought of as a skillful vote counter but someone whose views on issues are actually less conservative than those of Eric Cantor.

“It would be ironic indeed if Cantor’s loss moved the House GOP to the left, because that’s not what the message of Tuesday’s primary results was,” one conservative member told me.

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