House Republicans unanimously elected Rep. Steve Scalise Wednesday to continue to serve as whip for a party that now finds itself in minority status in the House of Representatives.
Scalise, R-Jefferson Parish, ran for the post unopposed. The congressman, who was recently re-elected by voters to a sixth term, is the current House majority whip and has held that position since 2014.
The whip is responsible for lining up support for key pieces of legislation, keeping Republicans unified on crucial votes and occasionally cajoling wavering colleagues.
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The job will make Scalise the No. 2 Republican in the next Congress, which begins in January. But Scalise’s party — which suffered significant losses in this month’s midterm elections — no longer holds the House majority.
That's a step up the party leadership ranks — something long expected with current House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, retiring at the end of the year — but carries less legislative clout than his previous job of House majority whip.
Scalise issued a statement shortly after the vote saying he was honored by the appointment.
"While the midterm election results were not what we hoped for, we must now sharpen our focus on re-establishing the conservative principles that are proven to help hard-working families have better opportunities to achieve the American Dream," Scalise said.
He also took shots at the incoming Democratic majority, painting them as extremists pushing “a radical, leftist agenda that would reverse the gains we’ve made for hard-working families across America."
Republican Kevin McCarthy of California, who’s currently the majority leader, easily won an internal party election Wednesday to take over the shrunken House GOP caucus, a familiar role for the underestimated scrapper whose top priority will be to protect President Donald Trump's agenda and try to build the party back to retake the majority.
McCarthy and Scalise, now the House’s top two Republicans, smiled and joked together following the leadership elections and spoke of tight Republican unity. The pair had spent much of the past six months quietly jockeying for position to replace Ryan as speaker, though the rivalry never spilled into public and Scalise endorsed McCarthy in Wednesday’s vote.
The title of speaker now belongs to a Democrat.
The speaker's gavel long gone, the race for minority leader was McCarthy's to lose, but the Californian's rise was never guaranteed. He's close to Trump, but the president is also friendly with Rep. Jim Jordan, the conservative Freedom Caucus member. And both faced testy colleagues ready to assign blame after the midterm election losses.
In the end, McCarthy pushed past Jordan, 159-43, according to officials familiar with the closed-door voting.
McCarthy "knows what he needs to do," said Scalise.
"You always look in the mirror and see what you can do better," Scalise said Tuesday. Republicans, he said, "need to do a better job of letting people know what we stand for."
On the other side of the Capitol, senators chose Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for another term leading Republicans and Chuck Schumer for Democrats in closed-door party elections that lacked the drama of the House contest.
Both McConnell and Schumer were chosen as leader by acclamation, according to those familiar with the private caucus meetings. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who expanded GOP ranks in last week's midterm, faced no opponent. Democrats returned Schumer's entire leadership team, despite the failure to capture the majority in the midterms.
Senate Republicans also welcomed the first woman to their leadership team in years, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, as they sought to address the optics of the GOP side of the aisle being dominated by men.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.