WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California capped a meteoric rise through the ranks of power on Thursday, winning election as House majority leader as Republicans shuffled their leadership in the wake of Rep. Eric Cantor’s primary defeat in Virginia.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, 48, was elected to replace McCarthy as whip, a clear indication that the rank and file wanted a red-state Republican in the upper ranks of leadership for the first time since the party gained control of the House in 2010.
McCarthy, a former aide who won his seat in Congress less than eight years ago, pledged after his victory to make sure the GOP “has the courage to lead with the wisdom to listen, and we’ll turn this country around.”
The changes take effect when Cantor steps down as majority leader on July 31. The current leader attended the day’s elections but did not speak as his successor was selected.
The challenges facing the leadership aren’t likely to change. They must guide an often fractious rank and file into the fall election season, while contending with a Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama.
Within moments of McCarthy’s election, the League of United Latin American Citizens issued a statement calling on him to schedule a vote in the House on legislation to overhaul immigration law, including a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants currently living in the country illegally.
The issue has long divided Republicans and figured prominently in Cantor’s defeat a little more a week ago, when he was trounced David Brat, a little-known, underfunded tea party-backed challenger.
In setting quick elections, Speaker John Boehner and other leaders hoped to avoid a divisive struggle that might complicate the party’s drive to retain its majority in midterm balloting on Nov. 4.