WASHINGTON — Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor announced on Wednesday afternoon that he will step down as majority leader and will throw his support behind California Rep. Kevin McCarthy to replace him.
“Now while I intend to serve out my term as a member of Congress from the 7th district of Virginia, effective July 31st, I will be stepping down as majority leader,” Cantor told a packed room of reporters at the Capitol.
Cantor surprisingly lost his primary election on Tuesday to David Brat, a political unknown and an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College.
With Cantor resigning, leadership elections are set for June 19. Asked who he would like to see replace him, Cantor said: “Well I don’t know who it is that will actually be running. I can tell you that if my dear friend and colleague Kevin McCarthy does decide to run, I think he’d make an outstanding majority leader. And I will be backing him with my full support.”
Several Republicans are expected to consider running for the seat, including Texas congressman Jeb Hensarling and Texas Rep. Pete Sessions.
No candidates have publicly announced their intention to run yet, though Hensarling opened the door on Wednesday to a possible campaign.
“I am humbled by the many people who have approached me about serving our Republican Conference in a different capacity in the future,” Hensarling said in a statement provided by his office. “There are many ways to advance the causes of freedom and free enterprise, and I am prayerfully considering the best way I can serve in those efforts.”
Before the press conference, Cantor met privately with the Republican conference in the basement of the Capitol. House Speaker John Boehner quoted Churchill and told his colleagues: “This is a speech I never expected to give.”
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Boehner said of Cantor. “When I was elected majority leader eight and a half years ago, Eric was there, as the chief deputy whip. He’s always been there. There’s no one who works harder, or puts more thought, into advancing our principles and the solutions we want to enact for the American people.”
Speaking to the press, Cantor was upbeat, refusing to say why he thinks he lost the election the Brat.
“You know, I’m going to leave the political analysis to y’all,” Cantor said. “I know that my team worked incredibly, incredibly hard. They did a tremendous amount of work. I’m proud of their work. I’m grateful for what they did. And in the end, the voters chose a different candidate.”
Watch Cantor’s remarks: