Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California has a clear path to succeeding Eric Cantor in the No. 2 House leadership position, now that McCarthy's only opponent has dropped out.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, announced Thursday night he will no longer seek the job of majority leader, leaving McCarthy as the only lawmaker running for the job.
“Today, it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party,” Sessions said in a statement explaining his decision. “At this critical time, we must remain unified as a Republican Conference.”
McCarthy, 49, currently serves as House majority whip, a position that all but assured him front-runner status in the race to replace current Cantor, of Virginia, who lost his primary Tuesday.
As head vote-counter since 2011, McCarthy has cultivated strong relationships with the rank and file and many lawmakers told the Washington Examiner his ability to connect with the members has solidified him as the top choice.
Sessions was eager to win the job, having recently served in leadership as the head of the House fundraising arm. He, too, has close ties to the members. In fact, many lawmakers were helped by him in their re-election bids or were recruited by him to run for Congress.
But his candidacy never developed momentum and by mid-afternoon Thursday, it was clear that the majority of the conference was lining up behind McCarthy, who they said would provide a needed continuity after Cantor’s sudden departure.
“I think he's done a good job,” Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, told the Examiner. “And several months before a general election I don't think we need a shakeup of our leadership team.”
Sessions had little time to mount a legitimate campaign against McCarthy.
Cantor announced on Wednesday that he would resign, and the leadership elections are scheduled for Thursday, June 19. With the House out until late Monday, that left only two full days for another candidate to gather support on Capitol Hill.
Sessions was also hampered by fellow Texan Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. Hensarling was mulling a run for leadership and dozens of Republicans were encouraging him to jump in. He announced Thursday he wouldn't jump in, but his backers weren't ready to switch their loyalty to Sessions.
Some lawmakers told the Examiner they believe the GOP leadership needlessly shortened the time frame to ensure McCarthy’s victory.
Cantor is not set to step down until July 31.
“It’s always the case that the leadership will set the timing of the election that advantages the result that they prefer,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who opposes McCarthy. “We knew this call would be made from the top and that they would accelerate an election as fast as they could."