2014-06-19 11:42 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Republican party that was thrown into turmoil by the surprise defeat of its second-ranking member of Congress was trying to unite Thursday ahead of a vote for a new leadership team.
But Republican restiveness along ideological and regional lines was on full display as members of the House of Representatives lawmakers met privately to elect their leadership lineup for the rest of this year.
The shakeup in the Republican-controlled House began with Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning loss last week to a little-known candidate backed by the limited-government tea party movement, in a primary vote that was supposed to be routine. Cantor, second in line to House Speaker John Boehner, quickly announced he would step down as majority leader on July 31, setting off the scramble for leadership jobs.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, 49, seemed likely to inherit Cantor's leadership job. He has climbed quickly since arriving in Congress in 2007, attaining the third-ranking position as the party's whip and was the chief recruiter of 2010 candidates who helped Republicans capture House control that year.
The contest to replace McCarthy as whip is where the intraparty battle is taking place, with three rival candidates squaring off in an unpredictable contest that was being decided by secret ballot.
The contenders were Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, leader of an organization of House conservatives; Peter Roskam of Illinois, McCarthy's deputy whip; and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, a second-term lawmaker who may attract votes from tea party lawmakers who think Scalise has been too cooperative with party leaders.
Many Republicans said now was a time for calm.
"Given the way Cantor is going out, it's important to show a little bit of stability," said Congressman John Campbell, who said he backed McCarthy in the uncompetitive majority leader race.
A McCarthy victory would elevate the genial one-time deli owner who became a congressional aide and then a California state legislator before being elected to the House from Bakersfield, California. McCarthy has been close to Cantor.
Several factors were roiling the race for whip, including regional sensitivities.
With the loss of Cantor, the leadership team is missing a lawmaker from the solidly Republican Southeast. That could give Scalise of Louisiana an edge, though it wasn't the dominant factor for everyone.
The issue of immigration, which has divided Republicans, was also coloring the voting. Some conservatives were abandoning Labrador because he was part of a bipartisan group that unsuccessfully tried to craft an immigration compromise. Some tea party lawmakers equated that effort with granting amnesty to some immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
No matter how Thursday's races ends, many are expecting new contests when Republicans lawmakers meet again after the November elections to choose leaders for the Congress that begins in January.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, David Espo and Erica Werner contributed to this report.