Sprint to Power: 10 Days Inside the GOP Leadership Race (Video)
Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning June 10 primary loss was the pistol shot that set off a 10-day sprint for power by House Republicans. Here’s CQ Roll Call’s minute-by-minute look at how the leadership races unfolded and, more importantly, how the victors put themselves in place to win.
Tuesday, June 10
7:30 p.m. Phones around D.C. begin buzzing with news from Virginia’s 7th District: Cantor is losing his primary — badly. With 39 percent of precincts reporting, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report tweets: “Right now, I just don’t see where Cantor (R) can make up his 58%-42% deficit. This would be the biggest House upset I’ve ever seen.” Suddenly, a race which no one was paying any attention to becomes the most closely watched contest in the country.
8:05 p.m. The Associated Press calls the race for Dave Brat, a tea-party-backed economics professor who ran on a platform of accusing Cantor of supporting “amnesty.” Cantor concedes 30 minutes later.
8:45 p.m. Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, one of the House GOP’s top agitators who voted against John A. Boehner for speaker in 2013, gets on the phone with CQ Roll Call and says Cantor’s loss shows the tea party’s staying power.
9:05 p.m. At the Capitol, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, is just hearing the news. “The election’s over?” he says into his phone as he exits the chamber. “He did? Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issues a statement saying Cantor’s loss transforms the midterm elections into “a whole new ballgame.”
Boehner exits an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill, where he’s been having a casual dinner with some Republican Senate colleagues and where, presumably, he heard the news about his No. 2. Boehner isn’t inclined to chat with the few reporters who idle outside on the sidewalk, citing his rule about never giving interviews on the fly.
11 p.m. Now safe from the press, Boehner releases a statement that, in three sentences, reads more like an obituary than anything else.
Overnight, Republicans eyeing the unexpected opening in the House GOP power structure begin to work their people. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California is immediately seen as the front-runner for majority leader, while Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas throws his name into the ring, calling, emailing and texting allies into the early morning hours.
Wednesday, June 11
Before 9 a.m., Pelosi is still having a good time with the Cantor news — and her own metaphor. She arrives at a weekly meeting of Democrats with an actual baseball, using the prop to repeat her line about a it being a new ballgame.
10 a.m. During a huddle in the speaker’s office, House GOP leaders aren’t in such high spirits. McCarthy is mum on what he plans to do, but assuming he runs for — and wins — the majority leader slot, his whip job would be there for the taking. Does Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodger of Washington want a promotion? If so, will Vice Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas want to move up too? Sources close to both lawmakers say they’re weighing options. Meanwhile, the whip race itself is already heating up, with Roskam quickly making it known that he will seek the job, along with Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise. Jeb Hensarling, the Texan who heads the Financial Services Committee, is being heavily courted by conservatives to make a bid for majority leader.
CQ Roll Call lands a
sit-down interview with Sessions
, who confirms he’s serious about a run for Cantor’s post.
3 p.m. McCarthy is making plans in his office with nearly 30 of his allies. They resolve to fan out and round up support, much like they do in the whip operation McCarthy currently runs.
3:30 p.m. Conservative lawmakers meet to plot out how they can put one of their own into leadership. McCarthy is too establishment for their taste; Sessions seems like a long-shot, and besides, maybe he’s been too much of a team player after being appointed by Boehner to oversee the Rules Committee. The far-right contingent of the GOP conference still wants Hensarling to run, but the Texas delegation is worried about a scenario in which they’ll have to choose between two of their own. At the end of the day, Hensarling and Sessions say only one of them will run — they just don’t know who. Meanwhile another name is emerging: Georgia Republican Tom Price.
4 p.m. Republicans huddle in the basement of the Capitol, where Boehner, through tears, quotes Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Cantor confirms he will step down as leader at the end of July and says he won’t run in the fall as a write-in candidate. A leadership election is set for June 19 — one week away.
Cantor speaks to the press, nearly blinded by flashing cameras. He says what everyone already knows, but throws in a small surprise: He’ll endorse McCarthy as his successor.
Thursday, June 12
Indiana news outlet reports
hometown congressman Marlin Stutzman is in the GOP whip race,
complicating the faceoff between Roskam and Scalise
10:20 a.m. Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin gives McCarthy his coveted endorsement.
10:33 a.m. Hensarling’s made up his mind: He won’t run, clearing the way for Sessions.
Pelosi holds her weekly press conference, reiterating that it’s a “whole new ballgame.” This time she pantomimes holding a baseball in one hand.
11:19 a.m. Rep. Steve King of Iowa releases a statement slamming the decision to hold a leadership election in just one week, calling for more time to field a candidate who is decidedly “anti-amnesty.”
A new possible contender for majority leader emerges from the right: Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho.
Noon. The Texas delegation gathers for its weekly lunch on the first floor of the Capitol. Nearly an hour later, members emerge to confirm that Sessions is still in. Sessions, flanked by fellow Texas GOP Reps. Randy Weber and Michael McCaul, tells the media that it’s important for a “red state” like Texas to have representation at the leadership table. The delegation is prepared to back him as a bloc.
4:45 p.m. The first senior member of Cantor’s staff announces he will leave Capitol Hill when his boss vacates the majority leader’s office, a sobering reminder that there is more than just one casualty in an election loss.
8:25 p.m. Realizing he can’t win, Sessions issues a statement saying he’s out of the race for majority leader. McCarthy is, by the end of Thursday, the last man standing.
Friday, June 13
The Republican Conference makes it official: An election “to elect a Member of the position of Majority Leader and to fill any other vacancies that may occur” will take place on June 19 at 2 p.m. At 8 a.m. the day before, members will participate in a “candidate forum” to hear from the contenders for leader and whip.
11:09 a.m. Conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks sends out an email. The subject line? “Run Raul Run.”
Labrador makes it official:
Roskam sets the stage for a weekend of lobbying colleagues by
sending out a letter
making his case. He promises in a lengthy treatise is that he will appoint a chief deputy whip from a “red state” to make up for the fact that he hails from a state that leans “blue.”
Saturday, June 14 and Sunday, June 15
Over the weekend, Labrador makes TV and radio appearances while McCarthy shies away from the spotlight, giving off the appearance of having the race in the bag. On Sunday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California says on C-SPAN that Labrador, with his straightforward manner, is someone Democrats could work with, especially on immigration.
Monday, June 16
Morning. After a weekend of heavy lobbying, staff-level supporters of front-runners Roskam and Scalise have critiques for how each is running his operation. The race gets testy.
Turning attention back to the majority leader race, McCarthy is fundraising in New York while Labrador is still making rounds on the media circuit.
Labrador turns his attention to his colleagues,
penning a letter
asking for their support.
12:18 p.m. A House GOP aide confirms that the three whip candidates will make presentations to the Republican members of the sizable Pennsylvania delegation, who could vote as a bloc.
5:15 p.m. The Pennsylvania delegation holds court in Rep. Joe Pitts’ conference room, while the whip candidates — plus Labrador — wait their turn to present to members in the “green room,” otherwise known as Rep. Tom Marino’s office.
9 p.m. More than 30 GOP members from the class of 2010 meet to talk about how the historic group can reassert itself in the conference. It’s not a formal opportunity for 2010-ers Labrador and Stutzman to pitch to their classmates, but both lawmakers attend and give stirring speeches about the future of the party and their roles in it.
10:15 p.m. Members emerge from that meeting energized about the 2010 class’s staying power but unwilling to say whether they were swayed to support Labrador or Stutzman. An employee with the Architect of the Capitol is just relieved he can finally get into the room to do maintenance work and then go home to bed.
10:30 p.m. Stutzman and his ally, fellow 2010-er Tom Reed of New York, disappear into Reed’s office to burn the midnight oil.
Wednesday, June 18
The last of the candidates filter out of the closed-door morning conference meeting and candidates forum. Each says he’s confident — except for McCarthy, who steers clear of the press, and Roskam, who holds a finger to his lips to signal his silence.
11 a.m. Members from Southern states gather to hear from whip candidates, plus Labrador. Like the 2010 class and the Pennsylvania delegation, they want to be together on this. But also like the 2010 class and the Pennsylvania delegation, it doesn’t look like that will actually come to pass.
Throughout Wednesday. Conventional wisdom still has McCarthy winning the majority leader race on Thursday, as Labrador struggles to shore up support even from conservatives who worry about his immigration position. Scalise still seems poised to take the whip slot, but Roskam and Stutzman could complicate that equation, especially if none of them take the majority of votes on the first ballot, forcing a run-off. Each whip candidate says he has a plan for that second ballot faceoff; Stutzman says if it comes to that, “all bets are off.”
Thursday, June 19
2 p.m. After 10 days of furious campaigning, texting, arm-twisting and phone calls, the mad scramble comes to a close: The House Republican Conference meets to choose a new majority leader and to fill any other vacancies that might result.
Matt Fuller, Daniel Newhauser, David Harrison, Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.