GOP Completes Leadership Shuffle, As McCarthy And Scalise Step Up

House Republicans voted Thursday on leadership positions in the party's caucus. While House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy stepped up to the role of majority leader, Rep. Steve Scalise overcame a more crowded competition to replace McCarthy.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. House Republicans elected a new majority leader this afternoon. This wasn't a nail-biter. As expected, Kevin McCarthy was chosen. He is currently the third-ranked Republican in the House. Steve Scalise of Louisiana won the position of Majority whip. And for more about the new picks, we're joined now by NPR's congressional reporter, Ailsa Chang. Hi.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Hi.

SIEGEL: Been a lot of attention paid to this election over the past week and a half, but today didn't present any surprises, did it?

CHANG: No, it didn't. The most important result, as you said, was pretty much a foregone conclusion for days. Kevin McCarthy has been expected to easily win the race for Majority Leader. The only question that remained was by exactly how much was he going to trounce Raul Labrador of Idaho?

Now Labrador entered the race when more competitive challengers had pulled out. And he represented the choice for the harder core conservatives who just didn't want to vote for McCarthy, since many see McCarthy as more of a mainstreamer. And after the election, McCarthy was asked, how can someone like you, a Republican from a blue state like California, satisfy those members who wanted a more conservative voice? And here was his response.

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REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY: They elected a guy who was a grandson of a cattle rancher, the son of a firefighter - only in America do you get that opportunity. They elected a guy that's only grown up through the grassroots. They elected a guy that spent his time going around recruiting many of these individuals to get the majority.

CHANG: Now today, most of the play in the election was in the whip Race. That's the number three Republican in the House.

SIEGEL: That's the race in which another guy, Scalise, captured the job. Tell us about that.

CHANG: Yeah, there were three candidates - Scalise of Louisiana, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana. Now Scalise was the more conservative voice many members have been clamoring for and he's from a red state. Many members wanted to see that represented in a top position. Roskam was considered more of a moderate, more of a status quo candidate since he's currently chief deputy whip. And Stutzman, who's conservative, was never considered competitive but maybe the guy who could peel off votes from Scalise.

Anyway, so in the end, you have McCarthy, who's considered part of the establishment and Scalise, who's the conservative, both elected today. I asked John Fleming, a pretty staunch conservative from Louisiana, what do we make of that - does that mean Tea Partiers and other conservatives are getting more influential in the Chamber, or is it the opposite since McCarthy still won? Here's what Fleming said.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN FLEMING: What we're seeing is incremental change towards more conservative leadership. I'm more interested in evolution rather than revolution. I want to see us move progressively step-by-step to a more conservative conference as well as leadership.

SIEGEL: So this concludes some pretty frenzied courting by all three whip candidates. What kind of promises do whip candidates make to members of the House to win an election like this one?

CHANG: Well, all kinds of things, apparently - things that aren't necessarily within the control of the whip. For example, there's been deep frustration among Southern lawmakers about how few committee chairmanships they occupy. States that were in the Confederacy now provide about 40 percent of the House Republican Conference. And only two of those members actually chair committees. So these three whip candidates have been acknowledging, yes, that's a problem, and they were saying that they were going to pledge to help change that. But again, it's really the speaker, not the whip, who can most determine who gets committee chairmanships.

SIEGEL: And how long do you think this leadership structure will last - these three?

CHANG: Well, there will be another vote for leadership in November. It'll probably be the same team unless John Boehner retires, as many people expect him to do.

SIEGEL: Thanks, Ailsa.

CHANG: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ailsa Chang on Capitol Hill.

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