Washington — U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, won a surprisingly easy victory Thursday in his quest to become House majority whip, the No. 3 position in the leadership of the House’s ruling Republicans.
The election, by the Republican members of the U.S. House, raises Scalise to the highest House leadership position ever attained by a member of his party from Louisiana — and the highest for a Louisiana representative of any stripe since Democratic Majority Leader Hale Boggs, of New Orleans, disappeared on a flight in Alaska in 1972.
But it could be a short-lived triumph: The entire Republican leadership will be up for election in mid-November, after Nov. 4 elections for all 435 members of the House. Not only will Nov. 4 change the roster of the Republicans in the House, however slightly, but the results will send signals about the mood of the country, strengthening champions of some ideologies while weakening others.
Scalise, 48, ran as a solid conservative from a thoroughly red state in the Deep South. All three of those constituencies felt underrepresented in House Republican leadership: The top job, House speaker, is held by John Boehner, of Ohio; Eric Cantor, of Virginia, is No. 2, majority leader; the current whip, Kevin McCarthy, is from California; and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington, is chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the No. 4 spot. All are from states that twice voted for Democrat Barack Obama for president.
With the exception of Cantor, whose unexpected loss in a June 10 primary set off the leadership scramble that culminated Thursday, all of those Republicans gathered after the leadership election and pledged to forge a unified front on House policy.
“We’ve got solid conservative solutions that can help solve the problems of this country,” Scalise said. As whip, he will be replacing McCarthy, who was elected majority leader Thursday.
While Scalise’s ascension will give his 1st Congressional District, which includes the southeast corner of Louisiana except New Orleans, as well as his state a stronger voice in the U.S. House hierarchy, that seems unlikely to translate into the kind of federal largesse accessible before the House Republicans adopted a ban on budgetary earmarks in 2010.
And as whip, Scalise’s role will be less focused on policy than on operations: The principal responsibility of the job is to firm up votes on the House floor for leadership-backed legislation, “whipping” Republican members into line.
In the Netflix TV program “House of Cards,” lead character Frank Underwood begins the series as House majority whip.
There won’t be much whipping for Scalise to do before the November leadership election in any case: Cantor isn’t stepping down as majority leader, thus making way for McCarthy, until July 31, before the monthlong August recess, which rolls into peak campaign season.
Nonetheless, as McCarthy’s progression shows, the No. 3 job provides a leg up for future advancement.
Scalise, first elected to the House in 2008, had been planning for months to run for whip, at some undetermined future date. Those blueprints were translated into orders of the day by Cantor’s defeat, with Scalise engaging in a near round-the-clock effort to marshal support, interrupted only by a one-day trip home to spend Father’s Day with his wife and two children.
Scalise’s election in early 2013 as head of the Republican Study Committee positioned him well for the campaign. The committee is designed to advance conservative ideas among House Republicans, and it includes a solid majority of the 233 party members in the House.
But Scalise faced a strong challenge from McCarthy’s appointee as chief deputy whip, Peter Roskam, of Illinois, who also had been planning a future bid. A third candidate, Marlin Stutzman, of Indiana, entered later, representing the tea-party-infused class of 2010 that gave Republicans the House majority.
It takes a majority of Republican members present and voting to win election to majority leader or whip, with a runoff between the top two finishers if no candidate wins on the first round of balloting. McCarthy, as anticipated, won on the first ballot for majority leader.
Although Scalise was favored for whip, that race was expected to go to a runoff. But Scalise won in the first round. The vote total was not announced.
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