McCarthy looking to lock up majority whip post Thursday, Sessions doesn’t rule out run

Jon Ward Contributor
Font Size:

California Republican Kevin McCarthy is aiming to lock up the votes from his fellow House Republicans as early as Thursday to ensure his bid for the majority whip post is successful, sources told The Daily Caller.

“He has a big whip team and he’s been an animal on the phone,” said a Republican congressman. “He’s getting great commitments from new members as well.”

If McCarthy lands in the number three spot in the new Republican House majority, as he is expected to do, it would mark a rapid ascent for the telegenic and charismatic 45-year old, who only just arrived in Congress four years ago.

McCarthy has been a strong ally of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and his rise was seen for some time as an asset to the Virginia Republican, who has always had an uneasy alliance with House Minority Leader John Boehner, who will become the next House Speaker in January.

But Boehner was able to establish a stronger working relationship with McCarthy by giving him a key role in crafting the “Pledge to America” document. McCarthy did much of the outreach to rank-and-file members, soliciting their ideas in advance and making sure they were on board with the final product.

McCarthy and Cantor, however, are both cut from the same cloth. They are hard-charging, youthful workaholics who go out of their way to court the press and speak well in front of crowds and TV cameras. And even as the 47-year old Cantor has built a communications team that is unparalleled on Capitol Hill, McCarthy’s own personal charisma and gift for gab are equal to the soon-to-be majority leader’s, and possibly superior.

Both stand in stark contrast to Boehner, who is more of an old-school, lower-profile lawmaker.

Despite McCarthy’s apparently inevitable march toward the whip spot, Texas Republican Pete Sessions on Wednesday did not rule out a run for the position. A Sessions spokeswoman said he would have something to say by Friday.

“Today, Chairman Sessions is enjoying the victories of this election, and in the coming days, he plans to discuss with his colleagues how he can best serve his party and country,” said spokeswoman Emily Davis.

Sessions is feeling the glow of the victory he presided over as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. He received widespread praise for his fundraising and his strategic use of campaign money in the closing months of the campaign.

Sessions is a Boehner ally, and run for the whip spot would set up a race between him and McCarthy, putting a spotlight on the Boehner-Cantor relationship. Boehner and Cantor are said to get along well these days, but relations between their staffs have degenerated.

If Sessions does not get the whip spot, he could stay on for another cycle at the NRCC. But that is not his preference, and there has been talk of Boehner creating a new quasi-leadership position for Sessions to solve the problem.

Normally, the NRCC chairman in a cycle where a party picked up 60 seats would have an enormous edge in going for the whip spot, since he would have personally recruited many of the candidates coming to Congress for the first time.

But McCarthy in the past two years eliminated that advantage by performing spectacularly as the NRCC’s recruitment chair, meeting with many of the new candidates himself.

In addition to his strong personality and love for retail politics and deal-making, McCarthy is also known for his encyclopedic and intimate knowledge of districts around the country. He emphasized these things in the letter he sent to colleagues asking for their support on Wednesday.

“It is often said that the Whip’s job is to count the votes. While that is true, it’s the pre-vote work that often makes the critical difference,” McCarthy said. “The Whip must have the deepest understanding of the individuals who make up our Conference—their values, principles, and the priorities of their districts.”

“This is our moment to do more than just be better than the out-of-touch party Americans voted out of power,” McCarthy said. “We must prepare for a White House in full campaign mode, a Democratic-controlled Senate, and a hostile media. Make no mistake: they will do whatever it takes to stop us. That is why we must be more strategic in our vision, more creative in our tactics, and more confident in our convictions.”

Email Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter