Newspaper article Roll Call

4 Lessons to Ponder after the House Picks a New Majority Leader

Newspaper article Roll Call

4 Lessons to Ponder after the House Picks a New Majority Leader

Article excerpt

Anticlimactic has become the word to describe Thursday's secret ballot to choose a new House majority leader. Everything points to a solid victory by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California; the only mixed signals are about whether Rep. Raul R. Labrador of Idaho will receive more than 50 votes, a symbolic threshold because that's more than one-fifth of the 233 members of the Republican Conference.

Absent much suspense, it's not too soon to consider the most important takeaways from the election. Here are four of them:

Leading Is Different From Whipping. Legislative whips get their name from the vocabulary of fox hunting, where the "whipper-in" is the guy assigned to keep the dogs on task during the chase. Very few Republicans volunteer that McCarthy has triumphed at the job he's had since 2011, and many describe him as a disappointment -- while pointing out that the conference is filled with members who campaigned on a promise not to fall in line behind the old guard.

There are plenty of high-profile examples of McCarthy's setbacks as whip, including an inability to muster the votes for a payroll tax cut extension at the end of 2011, his failure to round up backing for Speaker John A. Boehner's initial "fiscal cliff" bargaining position at the end of 2012 and embarrassing back-to- back floor defeats last summer for both a farm bill and a major domestic spending bill.

But the aphorism from so many annual reviews -- "You get your next position by succeeding at your current position" -- seems not to apply in this case. His impending promotion means McCarthy won't have to count or look for votes any more. If the No. 3 is like a plant manager, his eyes on the numbers every day, then the No. 2 job is like the CEO -- deciding which bills to bring to the floor, and when to advance the strategic goals set by the corporate board chairman (the speaker).

It Takes Somebody to Beat Somebody. That political tautology has come readily to mind the past week. The morning after Eric Cantor lost his Virginia primary, at least three members with more seniority than McCarthy, each with an important committee under his command, were being recruited to run for majority leader by clusters of conservatives seeking to upend the House GOP leadership establishment the Californian embodies.

Less than 48 hours later, they had all demurred and McCarthy was running unopposed -- while asserting he had the votes to repel any late-starting challenge. That's what he got in Labrador, whose main calling cards are his catchy, if caustic, rhetorical style and his standing as one of the first underdogs propelled to Congress on the tea party tide. But he was totally flat-footed in starting the contest, lacking even a list of colleagues' personal cellphone numbers so he could make his case while the House was in recess last weekend. …

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