Cantor, who has served as House Majority Leader since 2011,
unexpectedly lost in Tuesday's vote to college economics professor
David Brat, an activist in the Tea Party movement, which wants to
reduce federal government spending and taxes and advocates for a
The defeat put an end to Cantor's quest for an eighth term but he
will serve out his current term through this year. It also brought
an abrupt halt to Cantor's career as a rising star who had his eye
on the top job of Speaker.
House Speaker John Boehner, who cried during a closed-door meeting
of House Republicans according to some who attended, praised
Cantor's work as majority leader and said, "We've been through a lot
At a press conference following that meeting, Cantor said he will
step down from his leadership job on July 31.
Cantor said that he would back Representative Kevin McCarthy of
California as his replacement if he seeks it. Cantor and McCarthy
were close allies and they often had to try to scale back the
demands of the Tea Party.
Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, who chairs the House Rules
Committee, told reporters he would run for majority leader. McCarthy
and Sessions both have conservative voting records. Other
Republicans also could vie for the job, with an election set for
June 19. Trying to heal intra-party rifts that have plagued House
Republicans for the past three years, Cantor said: "The differences
that we may have are slight and pale in comparison with the
differences that we have with the left.”
Capitol Hill buzzed with speculation over whether the Tea Party
victory in Cantor's Richmond, Virginia-area district could bring
Washington back to the showdowns of 2011, 2012 and 2013 over budget
deficits and the size of government.
Financial market analysts feared a disruption from the relative
political calm that had prevailed since a December 2013 budget deal.
"I just think it underscores the total political dysfunction" in
U.S. politics, said Doug Kass, president of Seabreeze Partners
Management in Palm Beach, Florida. Noting the need for fiscal and
regulatory reform, he said, "This defeat suggests it may retard it."
BREATHER FOR EMBATTLED DEMOCRATS
The turmoil, however, has given Democrats a breather from a string
of politically damaging events that were preoccupying Washington
less than five months before congressional elections.
As they try to keep control of the Senate in November's elections,
Democrats have been battered by a scandal over the administration's
failure to provide veterans with timely healthcare and President
Barack Obama's decision to swap five Taliban prisoners for an
American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
More than a dozen House Democrats, gathered at a press conference to
promote a manufacturing bill, were all smiles as they reveled in the
Republican Party’s turmoil.
"We have seen over the last three years a (Republican) party that is
deeply divided and dysfunctional. I think last night was evidence of
that,” said Democrat Representative Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking
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The election result was an ironic turn for Cantor, who vaulted into
the No. 2 job in 2011 after he helped Republicans capture the
chamber the previous November on a wave of Tea Party support. A
number of factors, including low turnout of 65,000 voters, played a
factor in Cantor's defeat. House Speaker John Boehner is expected to
remain in his position through this year and to seek re-election to
the job next year if Republicans maintain their control of the
chamber, as expected, in November elections. But some conservative
Republicans were speculating that whoever emerges as a Cantor
replacement could also become a challenger to Boehner for the
speakership next year.
Tea Party discontent with Republican leadership was at a boil level
and activists were itching to flex their muscles after the win in
Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a rebellious Tea Party
activist who was kicked off of two committees 18 months ago, said
that conservatives "have been frustrated over and over again for the
last three and a half years about a team, not just Cantor, that rode
the Tea party-conservative wave, (but) none of them with real
conservative bona fides.”
Still unclear was whether Cantor's defeat could even resonate in the
2016 presidential campaigns, as the Republican Party battles over
whether to put forward a nominee with Tea Party leanings or someone
more mainstream, like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who could
have the broader political appeal needed to win the White House.
In the primary campaign, Brat accused Cantor of being too willing to
compromise with Democrats on immigration and budget issues and of
not fighting hard enough against Obama's signature healthcare law
known as Obamacare.
That, despite Cantor's role in staging more than 40 votes in the
House to repeal all or parts of Obamacare over the last few years.
One leading House Republican, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin,
told reporters he was not interested in a party leadership job. He
is expected to take over the powerful House Ways and Means
tax-writing panel next year and has been mentioned as a possible
2016 presidential hopeful.
(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards, David Lawder, Patrick
Temple-West and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Caren Bohan and Grant
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