Updated at 11:04 a.m. with Cantor’s planned resignation:
WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s unanticipated defeat in Tuesday’s Virginia primary election has opened up a chance for promotion for Spokane’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for the second time in two years.
McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking House GOP leader as chairwoman of the Republican conference, instantly vaulted to a list of top contenders expected to vie for a leadership vacancy in Cantor’s wake. Cantor was knocked out of the primary by a little-known and underfinanced tea party-backed challenger, David Brat, losing not only his No. 2 post but his job in Congress as well.
Political analysts attributed Cantor’s defeat to far-right conservatives’ anger over such issues as Cantor’s support for limited immigration reform and eventually voting to end last year’s government shut down. But experts said Cantor was also undone by perception that he had neglected his district while focused on his leadership duties.
Nate Hodson, a spokesman for McMorris Rodgers, on Wednesday declined to address her future ambition.
“The Congresswoman’s first priority has always been the people of Eastern Washington,” Hodson said by email. “They inspire and motivate her every day as she fights for solutions to make their lives better. Right now, she is assessing how she can continue to best serve them, her colleagues in the House, and the country.”
Yet the House on Wednesday was in full scramble mode. After a morning of mounting calls for him to step down as majority leader, Cantor has decided to forfeit his post within weeks, according to aides.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California has signaled he intends to move up a spot from House whip to replace Cantor. That would make room for McMorris Rodgers to run for McCarthy’s No. 3 position — if not Cantor’s job itself.
At least one conservative has declared his intention to contest McMorris Rodgers should she seek the whip job. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana will run, a GOP aide told Politico. Rep. Pete Roskam of Illinois is reportedly already an unofficial candidate.
McMorris Rodgers, 45, is deeply conservative, though one whose politics aligns firmly with Speaker John Boehner’s establishment leadership. She for instance has voted repeatedly along with the Republican caucus to defund and repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and backed the federal budget standoff that lead to the government shutdown in October 2013.
McMorris Rodgers personally opposes making citizenship possible for unauthorized immigrants. But she has publicly endorsed the official House Republican platform to allow a path for legal status for adults and possible citizenship for children brought here illegally.
With Boehner’s endorsement, McMorris Rodgers in November 2012 beat back an insurgent challenge by Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to succeed Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas as conference chair. Her victory in the closed-door vote came despite the fact that Price was backed by leading fiscal conservatives, including Hensarling and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee and former vice presidential nominee.