Second Texas Republican considers bid to replace Eric Cantor in leadership

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Will he or won’t he?

House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling continues to resist the entreaties of the insurgent wing of his caucus to launch a bid for House majority leader in the wake of Rep. Eric Cantor’s loss in a Virginia GOP primary.

The Texan declined to comment on his plans Wednesday evening as he exited a closed-door meeting of the Lone Star State House Republicans. The delegation holds the biggest bloc of GOP votes in the June 19 leadership election that has been called to select a successor to Cantor, who will step down from the No. 2 GOP post on July 31.

House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, who like Hensarling represents a Dallas-area district, announced earlier Wednesday that he was running for majority leader. But GOP sources said Sessions could drop his bid if Hensarling decides to jump in. The question is whether Hensarling wants the job and whether he could beat House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, who is considered the favorite to succeed Cantor.

Texas Republicans plan to meet again on Thursday to further discuss whom the delegation will support for majority leader — that was the implication of Sessions’ comments to reporters after they met on Wednesday.

“The delegation gave our selves an opportunity to fully talk with each other not even 24 hours after this thing,” he said, referring to Cantor’s primary defeat. “I think that we need a chance to come together, talk about where we are and what we’re doing.”

Hensarling is hesitant to pursue a senior leadership post because he enjoys being Financial Services chairman — something of a dream job for him — and values family time with his wife and young children. He is known to catch the first plane from D.C. to Dallas every week as soon as the House adjourns and the last plane coming the other way to get to Capitol Hill for the first votes of the week.

As majority leader, Hensarling would have to spend most weekends and recess periods traveling the country to raise money for House Republicans and headline campaign events for GOP candidates. Meanwhile, McCarthy would begin the contest with more banked votes than Hensarling, who has focused on policy matters, as opposed to building support for a future leadership bid. However, Cantor’s stunning exit from leadership could shakeup that dynamic.

“Pete had to get in first. Jeb knows he has a conservative bloc supporting him. Cantor will call on his remaining chits to help Kevin,” said a Republican insider who is close with McCarthy.

House Republican leadership elections are secret ballot elections. That means that a member could have firm commitments from his or her colleagues for votes that don’t end up materializing. It makes the outcome of these contests hard to predict.

If McCarthy does win the majority leader post, his whip position would become vacant. In that case, a vote for a new whip would begin immediately following the majority leader election. In preparation, two candidates have joined the race for majority whip: House Majority Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Illinois and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of House conservatives.

House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington announced that she would not seek a promotion, meaning at most there will be two elections next Thursday. If McCarthy were to lose his bid for majority leader, he is expected to retain the whip post.

The decision to call the leadership elections for June 19 was made collectively by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Cantor, McCarthy and McMorris Rodgers. None of the rank and file objected during the private conference meeting House Republicans held to discuss their next steps. During that meeting, Boehner called for members to rally around each other, according an excerpt of his speech that was made public.

“This is the time for unity; the time for focus — focus on the thing we all know to be true: the failure of Barack Obama's policies and our obligation to show the American people we offer them not just a viable alternative, but a better future,” Boehner said.

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David M. Drucker

Senior Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner