Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-1)
Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-1)

“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain,” said Kevin Spacey as House Majority Whip Frank Underwood on Netflix’s House of Cards, “there can be no mercy.” While they surely won’t descend to the tactics of their fictional counterpart, Congressional Republicans are scrambling to take advantage of the vacuum opened by last week’s stunning primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA-07). Mr. Cantor is vacating his position in the leadership immediately, with the aim of healing any fractures well before November’s midterm elections. Thursday’s election of Majority Leader carries little suspense; after Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (TX-32) cancelled an abortive run late last week, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) should easily move up one rung in the leadership. A late entry by Rep. Raul Labrador (ID-1), one of twelve Republicans who opposed the reelection of Speaker John Boehner (OH-08), is not a credible threat to Mr. McCarthy.

The real drama, however, lies in the race to replace Mr. McCarthy as Majority Whip. Three candidates are vying to succeed him: Reps. Peter Roskam (IL-06), Steve Scalise (LA-01), and Marlin Stutzman (IN-03). The smart money is probably on Mr. Scalise, who has broad appeal in a conference that is increasingly southern and conservative. While over three-quarters of the Republican caucus is part of the conservative Republican Study Committee and nearly half hails from the South, both Mr. Boehner and Mr. McCarthy fit neither category. As the current RSC chair, Mr. Scalise is well positioned to gain the backing of a conference that often feels shortchanged by Mr. Boehner. Insiders reckon that Mr. Scalise already has over 100 votes (of the 233 House Republicans), while Mr. Roskam, a more traditional Republican who is currently Chief Deputy Whip under Mr. McCarthy, has perhaps eighty. If Mr. Roskam is to prevail, he must make inroads with Mr. Stutzman’s supporters after the first ballot, as nobody gives the second-term Indiana Congressman much of a chance. But regardless of who replaces Mr. McCarthy, they will have a tough act to follow—after all, they will have far less latitude than Mr. Underwood.

Published by JP Meredith

John Meredith is a contributor to The Politic from New York, NY. Contact him at john.meredith@yale.edu.

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